The Magicians by Lev Grossman (Three Stars)

The Magicians by Lev Grossman

(Three Stars out of Five)

“I got my heart’s desire and there is where my troubles began.”

Grossman delivers a snarky, post-modern take on a thinly-disguised Narnia from the point of view of a young man who adored the stories so much as a child that all he wanted in life was for it to be true. But along the way to learning whether it is, he gains things (some of which he didn’t want) and loses things (lots of which he didn’t want to lose). The voice of Quentin is spot on, mixing pride, confusion, hope and terror in a most natural-seeming way.

Grossman creates a much better fantasy world than Rowling. Almost as good as Rothfuss or Tolkien. His magic is thought out and makes sense. And Brakebills is no Hogwarts. No quidditch. And they have the grace to lose at welter. Good foreshadowing, though he telegraphed a few of his punches.

Along the way Grossman explores the idea that words matter. At best, they meld into reality. Life finds meaning in story—whether great literature or pop fiction. Words help us define ourselves, change ourselves, reform ourselves.

But, because words matter, Grossman’s gratuitous obscenities can’t be winked at. Where he skillfully handles the recreational sex and drugs, he scatters profanity—words that he’d never use in front of his mother—throughout the text. But, you say, that’s how teens talk. Well, they do those other things, too, but Grossman doesn’t force them on the reader. They broke the spell of the storytelling. He’s skillful enough to give us the idea without the words. It’s almost as if the words are inserted for reasons of marketing, not art. If not commercial, at least lazy.

Even with three stars, I’d hesitate to recommend this book to anyone, let alone young readers.

“A magician is strong because he hurts more than others. His wound is his strength.”