September 10, 2009

BOOKS: The Magicians, Lev Grossman (2009)

Derivative fantasy novel that never transcends its influences to become anything more than a "Harry Potter goes to Narnia" knockoff.

Quentin Coldwater is making college plans when he walks down a Manhattan alley and mysteriously finds himself on the upstate New York campus of Brakebills College for Magical Pedagogy. He passes the entrance exams, revealing magical talents that he never knew he had.

We go with Quentin through Brakebills' five-year program -- he's such a prodigy that he completes it in four -- and then follow Quentin and some of his classmates, who have discovered the magic button that will take them to Fillory. Fillory is the magical land of Quentin's favorite childhood books, and he had never dreamed that it was a real place, or that those books were telling true stories.

There are a few cute ideas here, and one or two nice set pieces -- a long journey to Brakebills' Antarctic annex for special training is nicely conceived and written -- but ultimately, the characters aren't very memorable or likable, and Grossman doesn't live up to the high standards set by J.K. Rowling and C.S. Lewis. The Brakebills section of the book is better than the Fillory section, but then, I found Hogwarts a lot more interesting than Narnia, too.

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