Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Review: The Magicians, by Lev Grossman

Generally speaking I tend not to review books that have received crap loads of coverage on other blogs. It’s not that I don’t have opinions about them, but really what can I say about ‘Wise Man’s Fear’ or ‘Dances with Dragons’ that hasn’t been said ten different ways already? My way of thinking is that it's better to focus on books which maybe aren’t as well known, instead of books which any reader who stumbles across my blog will have heard of.

And then sometimes I’ll read a well known and oft reviewed book, in this case Lev Grossman’s debut ‘The Magicians’ and find I have some things I want to say about it.

If you’ve somehow never heard of this book I shall briefly describe it to you. And you if have heard of it, then you already know that I’m about to compare it to Harry Potter and Narnia. Because every single review of this book mentions both Harry Potter and Narnia. Quentin Coldwater gets accepted to a hidden school of magic where he learns that even when your life is literally magical that doesn’t mean it’s not going to also be boring and kinda aimless. Also he goes to Narnia. Fillory.

So I get why reviews most always mention Narnia, because the book is highly concerned with the place, or at least with Grossman’s version of it. But the Harry Potter comparisons (usually some form of ‘it’s Harry Potter for adults,’ or ‘it’s Harry Potter in collage!’) really bug me. Because, yes, ok, there’s a hidden magical school- but that’s literally the only similarity between the two books.

The mention of Narnia makes a lot more sense. Fillory pretty much is Narnia, just with two rams in place of Aslan and the Chatwin siblings in place of the Pevensies. And a lot more blood and sex. Calling the book grown up Harry Potter is annoying, calling it grown up Narnia kinda fits. But I don’t think it’s right to compare the two works. Grossman hasn’t written a Narnia knock off in the way that some might say The Wheel of Time is a Tokien knock off. He hasn’t tried to copy Narnia, rather the book is preoccupied with Narnia. Does that make sense? Grossman explores how we relate and escape into fiction. By taking a setting that a lot of people associate with magic and goodness, ie. Narnia, and twisting it into something wholly more dark and adult Grossman raises some interesting and confronting questions. Plus it’s just really cool.

The last thing I wanted to mention is the characters themselves. I held off on reading this book for ages because everyone was saying how unlikable Quentin and his friends are. So imagine my surprise when I finally read it (and I’m not going to lie, the reason I gave it a chance in the end is because I really love it’s cover…) and found that I didn’t find the characters to be unlikeable at all! I’ll admit I appear to be in the extreme minority here, because the unanimous decision seems to be that Quentin and co. are teenage dirt bags to a one. And it might just be that all the reviews had me expecting the worst, so that when I finally met them they turned out to not be as bad as I thought they’d be.

But whatever the reason I thought Quentin was a self absorbed twit who wanted to do the right thing, he was just never sure of what it was. Alice was (ha, I can’t believe after all my griping about it I’m going to say this…) a lot like Hermione Granger to me, annoying in an endearing way. Janet was abrasive, yes, but also fiercely loyal, and Josh was likeable to me as well. And Eliot… Well, Eliot in on the list of my all time favourite characters, easy. He wears his sarcasm and snobbery like protective armor, but it’s obvious that’s he’s damaged and hiding a lot of hurt inside. He’s the one I most want to see more of.

And soon enough I will, because the book’s sequel, ‘The Magician King’ is out now and won’t be languishing long in my to be read pile, let me tell you.

This book: I bought

1 comment:

  1. Lev Grossman takes the magic, suspense, and intrigue of the first book and magnifies it. Then he takes the desperation and sadness and crushes you with it. Grossman reminds you that the journey of a hero and their friends is not always a happy one. I find that I measure the greatness of a book by how much emotion it makes you feel. I can't wait to read the third installment.
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