Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 15/8/2009 (4544 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
By Lev Grossman
Viking, 416 pages, $33.50
QUENTIN is a typical teen: imaginative, too smart for his own good, and positive he is meant for more, that somehow his real life has been "mislaid through some error by the cosmic bureaucracy."
Oddly, Quentin is absolutely right, and his acceptance into the ethereal Brakebills College proves it. After all, it's not every 18-year-old who gets to practice sorcery, as most people "lack the tough, starchy moral fibre necessary to wield awesome magical energies calmly and responsibly."
With this brief synopsis, a reader can be forgiven for believing that this mystical tale to be a cynical retread of the Harry Potter children's series. Indeed, American author Lev Grossman layers his second novel with purposeful allusions to J.K. Rowling's creation, alongside the fantasies of C.S. Lewis and T.H. White.
However, Grossman, the book critic for Time magazine, is canny enough to comprehend the difference between homage and rip-off, and The Magicians is no rip-off.
While it wears its influences on its sleeve, its presentation marks it as the work of a marvellous wordsmith and a definite talent.
As Quentin advances through his classes, he discovers that the magical fantasies of his youth have little in common with the actualities of modern life.
Stories of the kingdom of Fillory that consumed his childhood (think Narnia) have left him ill-prepared for a world with little need for magic. Grossman layers his story with identifiable pathos as he expertly tracks the transition from adolescent idealism to brooding disenchantment, a period marked by self-destruction and a burgeoning drinking problem.
When a classmate discovers that Fillory actually exists, Quentin sets himself a quest, something to save him from "the ennui and depression and meaningless busywork that had been stalking [him] since graduation with its stale, alcoholic breath."
But an actual dominion of necromancy is a far cry from his daydreams, and Quentin soon learns that a search for self is far easier than a search for magical amulets.
The Magicians is a psychologically astute coming-of-age novel ensconced within the overt trappings of fantasy. Far from the light-Gothic sensibilities of Rowling, it is resolutely adult, rife with terror, depression, sexual confusion and death.
If there is a real weakness, it's that the set-up and the pay-off are unequally balanced. Quentin's trek through the academics of the supernatural is enthralling, but his adventure in Fillory is sketchy.
The quest is a thrilling interlude, but considering the majesty of what came before, Grossman does a disservice to his characters by rushing the final third. The lacklustre presentation of Quentin's fate, combined with a few loose ends left dangling, hinders the emotional dénouement the story deserves.
Nevertheless, The Magicians is a thrilling entertainment, the finest, most literate adult fantasy since Susannah Clarke's Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell.
Corey Redekop is a Manitoba-born librarian and novelist.