Sunday, June 7, 2015

The Magicians

Please note that my review contains minor spoilers for the book. In this case, a spoiler-free review simply won't do the book justice.

I just finished the weirdest fantasy novel I've ever read.

The Magicians by Lev Grossman can perhaps best be described as literary fiction for grown-ups who enjoyed fantasy as kids. It clearly evokes both Harry Potter and The Chronicles of Narnia, blending them into a coming of age story full of angst, sex, alchohol, and drugs, capped off with a dose of nihilism. It tells the tale of one Quentin Clearwater, a high school genius obsessed with a childhood fairy tale series about the enchanted land of Fillory, who discovers magic is real, is admitted to the Brakebills Academy in New York to master the impossibly complex magical arts, all the while struggling with the sheer meaninglessness of it all. Upon graduation, he and his friends stumble upon the fact that Fillory is also real, and thrust themselves into a quest that they don't understand and is much darker and complex than they ever imagined.

If you read the Amazon reviews, you'll read plenty of negative reviews, which should come as no surprise. This book, despite its title, is not fantasy and is not popular fiction. This is truly literary fiction. It breaks just about every rule of plotting yet somehow is both compelling and absurdly idiotic. It meanders, plot elements appear and disappear seemingly at random, and at times it seems the author is more interested in evoking emotion than it is in telling a compelling story. It's everything I hate in fantasy and yet I couldn't stop reading it.

Approach this book looking for an entertaining fantasy novel, and you'll probably be disappointed. But if you're looking for an adult tale that will make you think, make you laugh at its sheer absurdity, make you feel numb from its bleak meaninglessness, and make you look at some classics of the fantasy genre in a new light, I would recommend this book.

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