January 13, 2011
This book was a hoot and no, it's not Harry Potter for the post-adolescent crowd (though Grossman tosses in a couple of Potter jokes for good measure, along with Narnia, Tolkien, etc). This reminded me much more of a riff on post-adolescence itself using the familiar tropes of supernatural fantasy as metaphors for what goes on in life during this time much like what Joss Wheden achieved with his brilliantly-written Buffy the Vampire Slayer series.
In that show, Buffy had to deal with parents and school and relationships through the lens of a magically-endowed being learning to control and use her power, much like most kids have to do at some point. It's wasn't static, either. She didn't stay in high school for a seeming twelve years like some of the kids on other shows. She went off to college (enduring a literal roommate from hell at one point) and beyond.
This is the kind of thing Grossman's protagonist, Quentin Coldwater, has to deal with through a more Narnia-like lens. He's your typical smart-but-unmotivated kid dreading post-high school life, wishing he could escape, really escape to some magical land like the set of fantasy novels he read obsessively as a kid (and still does). He wishes this in such an aching way that it's no surprise that he ends up walking through a magical porthole to an enchanted school for magicians. Not the card trick kind, the magic is real kind with spells and enchantments and all.
At first this seems great, but then he realizes that this is just as hard and annoying as the real world. He still has homework and classes and nutty friends and annoying adults around him and still doesn't know what he wants to do in those hazy post-school years down the road. Then someone discovers a porthole to the actual magical land written of in those novels. It's a real place and they can go there...
The book is good. It's paced at a decent clip, is terrificly funny in just the right places and achingly heartbreaking in just the right places as well. Good thing it's not terribly long and that there are some wonderful surprises, because Quentin can grate at times. A little too much self-loathing and moping around. Nothing a few quick slaps might not cure.
In the end, it's not all about your own powers and gifts (whatever form they may take) and the proper use of them, but about your own humanity and your ability to connect with others in your pursuit and use of these powers and gifts that make us not only who we are, but can keep us from the nihilistic melancholy that dogs Quentin and other potentially lost souls. That's the real magic.
That, and the enchanted creature sex jokes.
The Magicians: A Novel