Saturday, January 23, 2010

Harry Potter Doesn't Save the World

The Magicians, by Lev Grossman, takes a grown-up take on the basic premise of Harry Potter--a hidden magical world, or at least school, where young magicians are whisked away to train. I'm about a quarter of the way through the book, and our overachieving, bored-with-reality teenage protagonist Quentin has stumbled into and passed the entrance exam to Brakebills, and is now a third year student at the prestigious magic college. The normal world (muggles, mundies, whatever you want to call them) feels like a pale imitation of reality now--this is where things shine brightly.

What a promising premise, right? Only the book reads like anybody's college experience--my own college experience. So far, it's mostly about getting a fancy-pants education, trying to fit in at a school that's very different from anywhere you've ever been, being academically competitive, etc. And there's not much else there. If they were studying chemistry instead of magic, pretty much nothing would be different--including the mysterious story of one character's brother's death at the school.

I just don't think this is enough to sustain a story like this. Maybe if it was intended for high school students, it would make more sense, but it lacks the perspective of a kid. It's a book for adults, but it doesn't have anything to say to me as an adult.

I presume that something else must happen. I'm about 75 pages into the book--I mean, something has to happen, right? Alice's brother died mysteriously a few years ago; Quentin doesn't know what kind of magic he'll practice. That's about all I have to go on, other than one of their classmates is gay, everyone's super-competitive, he's got an exclusive little group of friends now.

What it comes down to is that I don't know what this book is about, and I'm not loving it enough to find out. Maybe I'll try again someday, when I'm up for something leisurely, but right now I'm dying to sink my teeth in something.

So: let's see if The Physick Book of Deliverance Dane is what I've been looking for. I'm pretty sure there's a college (Harvard) and some magic in it. Wouldn't it be crazy if this was everything I wanted The Magicians to be?

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