Monday, January 16, 2012

The hipster Harry Potter - review of The Magicians by Lev Grossman

The Magicians bootstraps its own way to greatness, but it does so on the shoulders of two classic fantasy tropes - the school of magic and the 'through the wardrobe' magic realm. Both are particularly popular in children's fantasy, and I'm going to come out and say that The Magicians is my favourite genre work about the end of childhood since The Wizard of Earthsea.

Yes. it's that good.

The story follows Quentin, a gawky teenage prodigy who finds himself training to be a magician at a so-exclusive-it's-secret New York state college of magic more reminiscent of Donna Tartt's The Secret History than Hogwarts - a bitchy, Gothic, pressure cooker of higher education. The school is intricately realised, but more so are Quentin and his fellow pupils. They are moving in their desire to transcend themselves, to move beyond doubt, in that way that young adults often are.

Quentin is also fascinated by Fillory and Further, a set of books resembling the Narnia series in their parallel worlds, talking animals and schoolboy/girl messiahs. When he discovers that Fillory is more fact than fiction, he and his dysfunctional friends find a way over to the other side. Grossman is able to use this quest to expose their illusions.

It's a mark of how good The Magicians is that it doesn't make the account of Fillory any less fascinating or the quest more brilliant.

Darkly humorous, human, deconstructive - this is a modern fantasy to relish.

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