The Magicians
December 30, 2009


I believe magic exists simply because I've never seen evidence to make me believe that it doesn't. I've never seen anyone cast a spell or bend a spoon with their mind or shoot lightning out of their fingertips, but I do my best to believe that anything is possible.

In modern fiction the trick is presenting strange and unusual subject matter in real world circumstances, and the best way to do this is focusing on the humanity of the story rather than the fantasy, and that's exactly what this month's book does.

The Magicians by Lev Grossman is a story of Quentin, a high school senior in Brooklyn who feels like the world is getting a little boring. He knows there is more out there, thought he has no idea what or where "there" is. It's not that he dislikes his life, he just isn't motivated to be extraordinary. He's confused, like most high school seniors, until one day while walking home he stumbles through a strange garden and is transported to Brakesbill College for Magical Pedagogy, and after a series of demanding tests he begins his schooling in the ways of sorcery.

Now, I realize the last part of that paragraph might be a little hard to swallow, but every story in the sci-fi or magic genre or any style of fiction for that matter has to have one of these moments. A moment where the storyteller has to rip the reality Band-Aid off and just throw their character into this new scenario, be it falling down a rabbit hole or putting on a bat costume to fight crime or stumbling through a magic garden in Brooklyn. Once Quentin is at his new school, that's when The Magicians really begins.

There are lots of fun magical elements to this story. The students learn to read spells and readers are given a lot of the usual Harry Potter elements you'd suspect, but the story is more about young adult angst and anxiety than supernatural adventure. Quentin is a magician, but he also has to deal with the usual stuff with which college kids deal. He has trouble with meeting people at school, he has a crush on his teacher, and he drifts a way from his two best friends back in Brooklyn. He also gets homesick, but when he goes back to his parent's during school breaks he gets bored with his old life. Eventually Quentin realizes he still hasn't found what he's looking for and moves to Manhattan after finishing school. As the book and his life move on, the story continues with the idea that no matter how exciting your lifestyle is some people just need to keep looking for the next thing.

Grossman does a good job of giving readers just enough of the magic stuff to keep them in the game, to remind everyone that this is a new world he's created, but the characters are so well based in reality with their hang-ups and worry that readers can still relate. Even in strange new condition, people are still only human.


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