There’s an old saying that a writer has a million bad words in them, and they have to get them all out before they start writing well. I’m not sure what the analogue is in video, but I think I have quite a few minutes left before I start feeling comfy on camera.
So, like I was saying in the video…
I really, really enjoyed reading Grossman’s The Magicians. The story is split into four long books, and covers the college and post-college years of Quentin Coldwater. Quentin starts the book as a bit of a nerd and an outsider, headed to a college interview for Princeton. Before long, he’s diverted to a totally different interview – and accepted to Brakebills College, a (quite literally) magical college in upstate New York. Quentin finds himself in a very adult version of Harry Potter‘s Hogwarts; along with sorcery classes and magic doorways, he discovers the drugs, booze, and sex you’re more likely to find in a book like Less Than Zero. The book follows Quentin and his friends for five years at Brakebills and a few years further.
In another tip of the hat to a popular fantasy series, Quentin is obsessed with a series of books about some siblings who travel into a magical world with talking animals and Biblical undertones called Fillory. The worlds of Brakebills and this faux-Narnia collide in interesting ways in the later chapters of the book.
Many words can be used to describe The Magicians – urban fantasy, escapist fiction, coming of age tale – but I hate the fact so many reviewers called the book derivative. Grossman obviously loves the giants of the fantasy genre like Rowling, Le Guin, Tolkien and Lewis, and this book is tribute rather than rip-off. In interviews Grossman has said that he just wanted to show a darker, realistic side of young adults stumbling into real magic, and he accomplishes it winningly here. The writing is intelligent and moves quickly, and while the book is ultimately a melancholy read he shows great humor at some points.
The book isn’t perfect. Most of my problems come in the last couple dozen pages of the book, where everything seems to spriral out of Grossman’s control and come a bit off the rails. The pacing can also be a bit wonky, with a few pages covering minutes in a character’s life and the next few jumping them forward by a year. Still, I can forgive a handful of weak points for an overall excellent story. If you’re a fantasy fan, it’s a must read as a fantasy book and a love letter to the genre. If you’re someone who doesn’t typically like “genre” fiction, I’d suggest giving The Magicians a shot – it’s a mature, fully realized coming-of-age story that just happens to also be a fantasy book.