The Magicians - Lev Grossman I really enjoyed reading The Magicians. That's not surprising given that I think I'm more or less Lev Grossman's target audience: thirty-something sci-fi and fantasy nerds that take the genre fairly seriously, but still like to have fun and geek out at casual references to our favourite genre classics. This book has been compared to a cross between Harry Potter and the Narnia books, and I don't think the comparison is unfair...Grossman was obviously heavily influenced by these books and he wears his influences on his sleeve. Add to that list Donna Tartt's _The Secret History_ and a healthy smattering of D&D and I think you more or less have the pedigree for this book. That's not to say that Grossman is merely slavishly lifting from his favourites in some fan-fiction style work of pastiche. I think Grossman is successful in moving beyond these obvious influences and creating something of his own.

The outlines of the story are probably well-know given the relative hype that surrounded the book: Quentin Coldwater is a fairly typical disaffected nerd on the cusp of high school graduation, morosely wondering what to do with the rest of his life. Fortuitously he is plucked from the clutches of an interview with Princeton and winds up attending a secret college for Magicians to which only the brightest and best are invited. From here we follow him through the typical growing pains of a coming-of-age tale, spiced with the added complications of magic.

There's a lot of hate here on Goodreads for the book and most of it seems to fall into two major categories: 1) Wow, these characters are all sad and depressing, not at all like good old Harry Potter and his saccharine friends, and 2) Wow, Grossman totally stole the idea of a school for magic users from J.K. Rowling...how dare he?! I will readily admit that Quentin and his friends are not exactly happy-shiny people, but I didn't notice that they were horribly exaggerated either. They certainly seemed a lot more like real people than some authors are able to pull off (no names mentioned here). Also, I think given both the kinds of people they are (A-type, driven overachievers) and the experiences they find themselves in (forced to accept at a relatively advanced age that the explanations for the entire world as they knew it are not exactly true), and handed vast opportunity for power make most of their actions believable. In addition, for all the flaws Quentin may exhibit he seems to be trying to overcome them in an attempt to become something better...that's the whole point of the story, really. As to the second objection, all I can say is that Rowling hardly invented the concept of a school of magic and that those that love the pot should not be worried by the fact that the kettle is black. I think Grossman is very above board about his influences and while the parallels are obvious I think that any accusations that this is simply Harry Potter with unsavoury characters and the serial numbers filed off are unfounded.

Fillory, his invented stand-in for Narnia, is also well done. I found it much more convincing, and generally interesting, that Narnia ever was for me. Grossman even got me to consider starting to read the Narnia books where I left them, and that is no small feat given that, while I respect C. S. Lewis greatly and love some of his writing, the Narnia series just left me cold...I guess I came to them too late. The book left me wishing for more, and since the sequel has just been released that's a good thing.