Next up: “The Magicians” by Lev Grossman.
Fair warning, I despised this book. My review will not be kind. And it will contain foul language.
Quentin Coldwater is a highly intelligent high-school senior who is about to graduate into a boring and magic-less world. But on the day he is to interview for Princeton University, he chances into an interview for a different sort of school… Brakebills College for Magical Pedagogy. Though he isn’t quite sure what to make of this, or what exactly happened during his interview, he is offered a place at Brakebills, and accepts.
Once in the hidden magical school, Quentin learns that magic is a difficult beast, limitless, but complicated to learn and to perform. But he gamely tries, making a few friends along the way who share his classes and who also share his love of the children’s book series “Fillory and Further”, which is very reminiscent of Narnia. But as Quentin learns magic, he finds that it isn’t filling the void he feels in his life, like he thought it would. After graduation, his ennui is worse, and he and his friends’ lives are empty, their time consumed with sex and booze and nothing of true substance.
Until they discover that Fillory might actually be real, and they might have a way to go there.
This is the most joyless and, indeed, soulless fantasy novel I have ever had the displeasure of reading. It’s billed as “Harry Potter for adult” but that’s a load of malarkey. Harry Potter had some happiness in it, for all that a number of characters died. It had characters who had flaws but with whom you still empathized. Quentin and all his friends were the most whiny, privileged little bastards I have encountered as main characters. I didn’t like any of them, wanted all of them to die. It makes it nearly impossible for me to enjoy a book when the characters fill me with as much rage as this. They’re just horrible people. Quentin, being bored is not a valid excuse for cheating on your girlfriend. And his girlfriend cheats on him simply to get back at him, because that’s a reasoned and mature response. Everyone just lazes around and gets drunk all the time. They’re snappish jerks toward each other, and when Quentin and his friends are upperclassmen, they’re jerks to the younger students, justifying it as ‘tradition’, which is bullshit. They’re all miserable, all the time, no holds barred. Why?
Another of my biggest complaints is the magic. The ‘magic system’ is so under-developed and under-utilized it’s almost an insult to the fantasy genre. It is clearly practically limitless– I mean, Quentin’s senior project was to travel to the moon in a magical bubble-vehicle, and Alice’s was to isolate and freeze a single photon in place so she could observe it. These are their college senior projects. And yet they graduate and do fucking nothing with it. They whine about how pointless everything is, and they’re stuck in this abyss of ennui, and I’m sitting here thinking: “You can literally rewrite the laws of physics, you massive lackwits, what the hell.” In fact, this isn’t just a failing of Quentin and co. Nobody who can do magic does anything worthwhile with it. For fuck’s sake, people, you have all this power, what are you doing just sitting around using it to remodel your house so you can pretend to live in ancient Rome? Why don’t they get to work on real problems? Why don’t they use their magic to help doctors find cures for diseases? Why don’t they help achieve cold fusion? Why don’t they help astrophysicists explore the universe? Yes magic is hard in this story, but for god’s sake, if they’re breaking the laws of physics at the age of 22, then I’m sure they can do something. And yet, they do fuck all with their magic after graduating, barely even use it. There doesn’t even seem to be a ‘magical world’ like in Harry Potter, where wizards and witches assume positions in a magical government or economy. There is nothing. Apparently, in this world, people learn magic and then whine about it and do nothing of worth with it for the rest of their lives.
This isn’t about disillusioned young people “learning the hard lessons” about the world. This is a bunch of assholes too busy wallowing in self-pity to realize that magic hasn’t let them down, they’re just too unimaginative to use it properly.
Language. Gore near the end. Lots of sex and excessive drinking.