The Magicians by Lev Grossman is a marvelous, tragic tale. I enjoyed reading every page. Reviewers are correct: this is magic for grown-ups. There are real stakes here with profound consequences when boyhood fantasies come to life.
An exceptionally bright young man, Quentin Coldwater is bored. Something is missing. His talents aren’t appreciated and no one really understands him. He daydreams of Fillory, a mythical land depicted in a series of books by Christopher Plover. He yearns to escape there. He’s certain if he could just find the way there everything would be all right.
Sure enough, Quentin finds a way, but not to Fillory. Instead he’s transported from Brooklyn to an exclusive college in upstate New York. Here he learns real magic and becomes a real magician. As the semesters pass, Quentin makes friends, falls in love, witnesses wonders and yet still something is missing. He still isn’t happy and worse he isn’t sure what will make him happy. Even after graduating, moving to Manhattan and partying day and night, he is still aimless. With all the power at his fingertips, he is still unfulfilled. Then one day, it happens. A discovery is made that promises that this time, this adventure will be the one that lives up to his expectations. But his imaginings don’t prepare him for the nightmare that comes.
Drinking figures quite heavily in the book. And it underscores a theme that emerges. That magic can leave you with a hangover. Worse, it can make you an alcoholic. With such power, it can surely consume you as a bottle of liquor, pushing you further away from what you really value.
Grossman pays explicit homage to the Harry Potter and Narnia series as well as Dungeons & Dragons, while finding his own voice and shaping his own worlds. They’re vivid and fascinating. There are creatures that are weird, surprising, frightening and savage.
Read an interview of Lev Grossman on the Onion’s AV Club website.