1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
Not a typical wizard book, but a novel,
This review is from: The Magicians: A Novel (Hardcover)
I wanted to pass this one by. After all, the story of some young kids who find themselves attending a magical school, where they train to be magicians. Coming of age, Bildungsroman, adventures which turn into learning experiences. Setting aside Harry Potter, this is a story told weekly by some fantasy writer and I've simply read too many of them. Though this one hit the best seller lists, so do some particularly derivative fantasy books, mainly on the basis of pent up demand for the 12th book in some boring series. Fortunately, The Magicians is something more than that and quite enjoyable.
World building is the bedrock of many fantasy novels - what is the school like, what odd characters must exist, the suspension of disbelief that grows progressively greater. Grossman does something a lot harder. These high achieving college students behave like high achieving college students. They fight, strike poses, drink and drug themselves when they can. They pair off and manipulate each other. Magic isn't a wish fulfillment tool, but rather like rocket science. Not everyone can be good at it, but the best work extremely hard on developing their gift. No one is there because their mother loved them and protected them from evil when they were a baby.
Their world is a not just an alternative form of ours, but it IS our. Bored kids looking for a purpose, learning an arcane skill at college and then turning into aimless adults. No magical tutors who will protect and guide them. Fewer flying cars and more taking money from ATMs through a spell. Even when we move into significant magic, the world seems less like Indiana Jones and more like a troop deployment to Afghanistan.
Nor is this a story of the inevitable triumph of good over evil. Like life, most of the characters are a mixture of good and evil, a more Catholic implementation of the doctrine of Original Sin. Good definitely has significant power, but so does delusion, ambition and other less attractive motives. People will get hurt, hurt each other in ways that are all too familiar and characters that are not "crewman Green" will die.
So what led me to write a review of this fine book? It is like most good books or music. We can almost predict what comes next, are pleased with that ability and even more pleased when we can't. In the end, this is a novel and a very good one, so I won't shelve it in the fantasy though I put the second copy there to entice the fantasy readers. As a final tribute, I would add that it most reminded me of Ursula LeGuin and I have trouble thinking of a higher tribute.