Tuesday, January 31, 2012

The New Adult Project: "The Magicians" by Lev Grossman

Considering that I'm a fantasy writer, it would be unthinkable not to include fantasy books in the "New Adult" project. Fantasy often takes place in worlds where twenty-somethings are considered fully-fledged adults, so there aren't very many that qualify as "New Adult."

However, when I do think of "New Adult," the first book that comes to mind is The Magicians.

Goodreads Summary:

Quentin Coldwater is brillant but miserable. He's a senior in high school, and a certifiable genius, but he's still secretly obsessed with a series of fantasy novels he read as a kid, about the adventures of five children in a magical land called Fillory. Compared to that, anything in his real life just seems gray and colorless. 

Everything changes when Quentin finds himself unexpectedly admitted to a very secret, very exclusive college of magic in upstate New York, where he receives a thorough and rigorous education in the practice of modern sorcery. He also discovers all the other things people learn in college: friendship, love, sex, booze, and boredom. But something is still missing. Magic doesn't bring Quentin the happiness and adventure he though it would. 

Then, after graduation, he and his friends make a stunning discovery: Fillory is real.

Some people refer to The Magicians as "Harry Potter for grown-ups." This is misleading. A more accurate description would be "Harry Potter for jaded people." Hmm, that doesn't work either. "Jaded" often implies "dark," and this novel isn't so much "dark" as merely "dreary."

This book is not for everyone. In fact, it's probably not for most people. Why? Well, the general premise can be summed up as "Stick a boring guy in a magical world, and he will still be boring."

And boring is exactly what Quentin is. He's neither likable nor interesting. Think of that friend who spends all his time complaining about how bored he is instead of actually doing something. That's Quentin. And yes, he's supposed to be that way. But he must change throughout the course of the story, right? Umm, no, he doesn't. By the end of the book, he's not only even more boring than before, but also hypocritical and unmotivated.

This is a book about disillusionment, which is what makes it fits so well with "New Adult." Quentin yearns for magic, but by the time he graduates college, he discovers that magic does not bring him the excitement and sense of purpose he dreamed of. For the most part, learning magic is a dull, tedious exercise, and the easy lifestyle it allows him to live means that he has very little motivation to do anything with his life. That attitude becomes so ingrained in Quentin that, by the time he gets to Fillory, all he can think is how much better the experience would be if he were on drugs.

It's really hard to enjoy this book. The Magicians isn't the sort of book you're supposed to enjoy--it's the sort of book you're supposed to respect and admire.

And honestly, if it were just for all of that, I would totally admire this book. I love seeing books that are brave enough to feature unlikable protagonists and approach the story from an honest and original perspective.

But unfortunately, where this book excels in concept, it fails in execution. Grossman's writing is just so lazy. He often resorts to telling instead of showing. We are once told that a character is sarcastic. That character only says about two words throughout the course of the story, neither of which are very sarcastic. There are also several instance where small things happen that make no sense and that have absolutely no bearing on the plot. For example, at one point, Quentin is moved up a year in school. Apparently, this is something really rare, and is supposed to suggest that Quentin is really good at magic. However, the impression I got was that Quentin wasn't all that good at magic. Not only that, but the only way this contributed to the plot was to bring Quentin closer to the older Physical Kids--something that wouldn't have been necessary had Grossman just made them a year younger. There is also a character introduced halfway through the story who has neither a personality nor a reason for existing (Anais).

I'll leave it to you to decide whether or not this book is right for you. If it is, and you enjoy it, there's also a sequel, The Magician King, that came out a few months ago.

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