Author: Lev Grossman
Publisher: Viking

Click Here To Purchase The Magicians: A Novel

One could write that The Magicians is a coming-of-age novel set in a sort of university for magicians.  It is that, but so much more.  The book follows Quentin Coldwater and several of his fellow aspiring magicians through several stages of their lives, finally achieving a dream and then finding that even then, all their desires are not fulfilled.

Quentin and two of his teenage friends from Brooklyn are, as the book opens, on their way to an interview with a man who will hopefully recommend them to Princeton.  Quentin, even at this stage, is doing surreptitious sleight of hand tricks with a coin in his pocket.  When they arrive for their interview, they find that the man who was to interview them has died, apparently of a heart attack.  The young people call for emergency services and one of the paramedics, an “unreasonably lovely” woman, gives Quentin an envelope that she says was left for him by the deceased man.  Chasing a note that blew out of the envelope, Quentin walks through a portal in Brooklyn and finds himself on the grounds of Brakebills College—a school for Magicians. 

Even though Quentin has been “invited” to Brakebills, he must pass grueling entrance exams including a challenge to perform some actual magic—not tricks—real magic.  During the selection process, Quentin meets a lovely, but reticent, young woman named Alice.  Quentin is smitten, but it takes quite a while just to get to know Alice.  A careful reader will intuitively know, however, that she will be a major player in Quentin’s future. 

The book primarily focuses on five young magicians and follows them and their fellow students through their five years at Brakebills, including a trip to Antarctica during which they are magically transformed twice; once into Canada Geese and then, for a time, into Artic foxes.  As foxes, Quentin and Alice first experience sex. 

At this point, I began to wonder where the author was taking me.  Hang on though; the story is just getting underway.  At the beginning of the book, Quentin is an unhappy young man who has secretly visited a fantasyland named Fillory over and over—even past childhood.  In fact, a map of Fillory is on the inside of the cover and facing page and in the back of The Magicians.  The map is drawn from the stories in a series of five books written by Christopher Plover about a magical land beyond the touch of the everyday world. 

Quentin and his friends have graduated from Brakebills and are living in New York with no apparent goals.  Suddenly, one of the men who started the magician’s school with them, Penny, appears.  He dropped out of school and had been gone for more than a year but the graduates are stunned to learn that he has been in Fillory.  They are surprised to know that Fillory actually exists and are excited when Penny tells them that he can take them there. 

In Fillory, the group goes on a quest to restore the land to what it once was. To do this, they must confront “The Beast,” a powerful and evil entity that once came through all the defenses at Brakebills and killed one of the students.  The magical and physical battle is fierce, but the young magicians finally prevail.  Their losses are significant, but Quentin survives after being nursed to health by a group of centaurs.  

Quentin goes back to “normal” New York and becomes a part of a predictable, humdrum organization.  He has renounced magic; it has caused too much pain.  At the book’s ending, however, magic is once again in his life.  

The first part of the book is a story of growing up as a magician—a sort of Harry Potter with an “R” rating.  The book shifts, in Fillory, to the archetypical noble quest to heal a wounded land. Back from Fillory, Quentin and other magicians, confront a different challenge—they must confront the gritty, repetitive everyday life of  “normal” humans. 

Grossman has given us an engaging tale that takes us into more than one magical land.  Highly recommended.

Click Here To Purchase The Magicians: A Novel