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Lev Grossman: The Magicians

This was a free ARC from BEA; the actual book comes out in August. It’s an interesting idea, basically an adult fantasy book that is based on the experience of having read young adult fantasy books. It silently references the Harry Potter and Narnia books incessantly in a “good artists borrow, great artists steal” kind of way. Liza thought this was kind of lame but I thought it was reasonably ballsy; if the whole point of your book is to be playing off Harry Potter and Narnia tropes, why bother to hide them through an extra level of indirection? Checking off the one-to-one correspondences did get a little tiresome, though.

The original part of it comes from the fact that it is basically half standard fantasy book, half standard tale of the lives of dissolute yuppie wastrels, a la Bret Easton Ellis or Jay McInerney or something. At its best this makes it a hard-hitting realistic look at what might really happen if magic were real and a bunch of imperfect youngsters possessed its power. At its worst it’s a bunch of mopey twenty-somethings who vomit up fireballs instead of liquor after drinking too much expensive port.

There is a bunch of fairly interesting character development although I found it hard to bring myself to care overly much about any of said characters, perhaps because all of their flaws and imperfections are so lovingly laid bare. And the plotting and connections are mostly well done and tight; even when things kind of go off the rails, it’s clear that they were intended to by the author, although that didn’t stop me from disapproving somewhat. I do have a character development gripe in that the protagonist undergoes multiple important changes of heart within a eyebrow-raisingly small number of pages near the end, as if Grossman had sketched out a longer arc and then had to cut out most of its plot while retaining the character’s emotional journey through it.

I did enjoy The Magicians — Grossman certainly knows how to write and despite the impression I give above there is a bunch of cool original stuff in it — but I put it down thinking that it had not quite reached its potential.

P.S. Don’t read the back cover! Or read the Amazon description! Or… I guess it’s pointless; if you read more than one paragraph about this book (other than the above), you’re practically certain to get spoiled about something that is revealed well after halfway through the book. If I were an author I would hate that publishers do this.