Lev Grossman’s The Magicians takes the reader on a fun, sometimes thrilling tale of magic and coming of age that is quite divergent from the Harry Potter genre. Delivered in plain, mass market prose and numbering only around 400 pages, the novel flies by. The story pulls you, the text is easy to digest, and little thought is needed to grasp what is going on. This fact is not noted to detract from the read, and in fact the story of Quentin Coldwater’s rise from academic glory into the annals of magical greatness is quite gripping, but it is an easy read.
Set mostly at college for magicians, the book follows Quentin’s matriculation through the exclusive—as in they find, pick, and test you, erasing your memory if you fail—New England College for magicians, Brakebills. Coldwater, a high achieving introvert with an obsession for the mythical Fillory, Grossman’s answer to Narnia, seeks to find a purpose within the school. While tragic accidents occur, there are no teachers glaring and judging and deciding nor is there a known enemy to fear. In Brakebills and later New York City, the reader witnesses all the stuff that J. K. Rowling leaves out: real love, lovers, alcohol, and the nothingness that results in one’s eventual graduation from college and the requisite initiation into adult life. Complicating the matter is the fact that these magicians must enter a world ignorant not only to their true power but also their actual existence.
The answer to such ennui comes through the chance that other worlds exists. This chance allows Quentin and his group of friends to contemplate that their childhood fantasies are real, a fact that places them at the center of a battle for the continued existence of the mythical Fillory. Here men can rise to their destinies, here they can seek out a purpose. Yet, even in Fillory, Quentin struggles to show that he is great, that he is worthy of our attention, that he is anything more than human. It is this humanity that keeps the pages rapidly, and confidently turning.