“The Magicians” by Lev Grossman is an adult story of wizards and wizarding, and is the basis for the series on the SyFy channel (which I haven’t seen.) While comparisons to Harry Potter are inevitable, there are more nods to Narnia in the book, and it really stands on its own.
In a nutshell, Quentin is a socially awkward high school overachiever. He is too old to be but is still obsessed with a Narnia-like series of books, in which a family of children go back and forth between their world and Fillory, a world of magic. He goes for his Princeton interview, and finds himself somehow taking the entrance exams for Brakebills, a magical college.
Because Quentin is an adult, his ‘adventures’ are decidedly adult. The students at Brakebills drink, swear, have sex, and other things that normal 18-22 year olds would do. There is no overarching battle of good vs. evil because those concepts, as in the real world, are not quite so absolute. The good guys have human flaws and frailties. We like some things about them, and dislike some things about them. Just like regular people. Magic is not a matter of wand waving and incantations, but a serious subject involving hard work and hardship and a ton of rote memorization.
Where it compares most to the Harry Potter series is in its target audience, only older. If you found yourself disappointed on your 11th birthday that you did not get a Hogwarts letter, fear not. As an adult, you might find yourself taking the Brakebills entrance exam. If you even want to, after seeing how grueling it is.
Well written, erudite, and entertaining, “The Magicians” is the first book in a trilogy that fills a hole in the adult canon of fantasy. It’s not a hero’s quest battling elves and dragons, like so many fantasy books. (Though there are otherworldly battles. That’s just not what it is about.). Rather, it is a ‘realistic’ coming of age story, exploring childhood ideas and fantasies in the light of adulthood, only with magic.
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