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The Magicians    by Lev Grossman Amazon.com order for
Magicians
by Lev Grossman
Order:  USA  Can
Plume, 2010 (2009)
Hardcover, Softcover, CD, e-Book
* * *   Reviewed by Ricki Marking-Camuto

If you grew-up loving Harry Potter and The Chronicles of Narnia (or if you fell in love with them long past the intended reading age), you must pick up The Magicians by Lev Grossman. While Grossman's tale is deeply rooted in children's fantasy, this magical coming-of-age novel is definitely for adults only, and therein lies its genius.

One of his school's top students, Quentin Coldwater is on his way to being accepted into an Ivy League university. While going to Princeton would be nice, what Quentin wants most of all is to travel to the fictional world of Fillory, the magical land in a favorite children's book that he still secretly reads. It is not until his Princeton interview is cancelled after the sudden death of the alumnus set to meet with him that Quentin learns that magic is real. A gust of wind blows Quentin's papers as he is on her way home from the cancelled meeting. As he chases a mysterious slip of paper given to him by one of the responding paramedics, he stumbles onto the hidden campus of Brakebills, a five-year college for magical studies.

Always a bright student, Quentin passes the entrance exam and becomes one of twenty students in the incoming class. Basically cut off now from his old friends and family, Quentin experiences very little homesickness as he is finally starting to feel like he is where he belongs. His college years are spent learning the fundamentals of magic and being grouped with the Physical magicians, as his discipline never materialized. Quentin's friendships continue after he graduates from Brakebills. The world is a playground to a young magician, but Quentin and his friends get way more than they bargained for when they find the way into Fillory.

The Magicians, for all its roots in the works of Lewis, Tolkien, and Rowlings, is unlike any fantasy novel out there. It is a raw, gritty, coming-of-age tale filled with young adult (as in older than teen) angst and disillusionment. Unlike most fantasies, this is not a fast-paced tale, filled with action at every turn. Yes, there is some magical action and even one spectacular fight scene, but The Magicians is more about Quentin coming into himself than about magic. It is also realistic in that not everything turns out the way it should, and there is no happy ending to be found just an ending.

Grossman has shown incredible prowess in crafting a new kind of fantasy tale fantasy for adults only but still keeping with the strong traditions starting with pre-WWII children's fantasy. There is only one tiny detail, though, that bugged me the whole way through the novel. Quentin and his girlfriend Alice skip to Second Year halfway through First Year, but all of the years are supposed to have twenty students and it is mentioned later that their class has twenty students what happened to the other two, and who took their place in the class they left? If you are a stickler for details, this will probably bug you, too.

Despite this one inconsistency, this is an expertly-crafted fantasy, putting a clever spin on the tradition we have all grown up reading. Lev Grossman's The Magicians is sure to become a classic.

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