“The Magicians is to Harry Potter as a shot of Irish whiskey is to a glass of weak tea.” – George R. R. Martin, author of A Game of Thrones
While The Magicians has been sold as “Harry Potter for adults,” it’s so much more than that. The writing is more sophisticated and beautiful, the magic is more organic and dangerous, and the characters live worlds away from Dumbledore’s sheltered bubble. The cocaine, cursing, alcoholism, and drunken horny sex is a relief to read, since I always wondered why everyone at Hogwarts wasn’t constantly wasted on Firewhiskey and using their wands to create mind blowing hallucinogens. The problem was JK Rowling had already targeted a young audience and trapped her story on an unrealistically sober and rule abiding school campus, whereas Grossman has no boundaries to tread carefully. Following his characters’ reckless exploits with magic is like watching muggles experiment with acid.
I was a little skeptical of the clichéd Narnia and Alice in Wonderland allusions of stumbling down a rabbit hole into a magical world in the first chapter, but I suppose all fantasy books have to start somewhere. The uncomfortable and abrupt removal from home is all part of the formulaic fantasy hero-cycle: Sam and Frodo have to leave the Shire, and Harry has to leave his muggle saturated cupboard. Otherwise there is no adventure. In The Magicians, Quentin follows a blowing piece of paper into a chilly Brooklyn alleyway and he mysteriously finds himself on a humid college campus.
Finally some magic happens in America, as it seems all the best fantasy novels are written by British authors (Tolkien, Rowling, Lewis, Clarke, Gaiman) who have extremely British characters in not-so-subtle British settings. The magic school in The Magicians is in upstate New York, giving us a relatable and accessible environment that we can all picture ourselves in. And the school is a college, not a grade school for eleven to seventeen year olds, which makes it a perfect escape for anyone who is bored with the disenchanted quality of college life. The main character Quentin is one of those disenchanted people who wants to see the world through the rose-tinted lens of his childhood fantasy novels, and when he finally gets to see it, it’s a lot more dangerous, sexy, and real than he ever thought it could be.
Read the entry for the sequel The Magician King here – includes spoilers for The Magicians.
(This is an edited version of a book review originally published in my writer’s blog on Her Campus)
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