Seventeen-year-old Quentin Coldwater has always been obsessed with fantasy worlds. As a child, he was obsessed with a series of books about four British children who travel to a magical world and become royalty there (the magical land is called Fillory – why, what did you think I was talking about?), and has always wished that he could escape the real world and have an exciting adventure in a different world. One day, while on his way to a college interview, Quentin is given a mysterious envelope, and learns that he has been selected to apply at Brakebills, a school for magicians. He gets in, and spends the next five years at Not-Hogwarts learning magic. And then he gets out of school and he and his friends find out that Not-Narnia, aka Fillory, is real.
The first two-thirds of this book, when Grossman is gently and skillfully poking holes in everything you thought you loved about the Harry Potter series, is really good. Best parts of this section: Grossman makes it clear that magic is really really hard (to the point where the only kids who get accepted to this college-equivalent of Hogwarts have to be legitimate geniuses, and even then they might not get in), the kids do drugs and drink and have sex like normal teenagers, we find out that most grownup magicians are miserable and don’t know what to do with their lives, and Grossman manages to fit five years of school into about half the book, accomplishing in 300 pages what JK Rowling needed seven volumes to do. This first half of the book, as I said, is good. But THEN, dear readers, we get to the Narnia-influenced part of the book, as the kids (now 22-year-olds) travel to a magical world that is Narnia in everything but name.
And then the shit hits the fan with a vengeance. This is what it was like to read the last third of The Magicians: Lev Grossman ripped my heart out and stomped on it for 100 pages, and then he gave it back to me and handed me a Band-Aid like that’s supposed to make everything he just did okay. It is not okay, Grossman, and it will never be okay. GIVE ME BACK MY CHILDHOOD INNOCENCE, YOU BRILLIANT BASTARD!
Verdict: four out of five stars