book recommendation: The Magicians, by Lev Grossman

the futile, external quest for happiness

Quentin, a hyper-competitive, super-intelligent high school student is on his way to a Princeton undergraduate entrance interview when he is diverted and discovers Brakebills, a five-year magical university hidden in upstate New York.  Imagine – and if you’ve read anything about this book, you’ve already seen this – Harry Potter for grown-ups.  There is also a series of books within The Magicians about a magical land called Fillery, which are clearly an homage to the Narnia books.  I’d recommend against reading lots of reviews, as many reveal a key plot twist that doesn’t take place until halfway through the book.

I listened to the unabridged audiobook and had trouble putting down my ipod.  From the opening of the first chapter, I loved the prose: smooth, well constructed, a pleasure.  Grossman – in his protagonist Quentin – expertly illustrates a teenager and then a man constantly seeking for external sources of happiness with the expected results.  I remember a scene that was particularly emotionally resonant, in which one character has betrayed another and slowly, step-by-step, goes from self-justification to admitting (to himself) the gravity of his action.  The emotional resonance and the prose surpass the fantasy genre.

Yet relative to the genre, the creativity is wonderful, with a number of ideas (and a twist regarding time) that I haven’t seen before and thoroughly enjoyed.  I cannot wait to listen to the sequel, Magician King.

Note on content: The book has a few sex scenes (not graphically detailed for the most part), strong language, and a couple of scenes of graphic violence.

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