The Magicians by Lev Grossman is one of many young adult titles in the fantasy genre. The book begins by introducing three high school seniors, Quentin, James, and Julia. They are among New York’s finest: extremely smart and privileged white kids from wealthy households. It’s something of a love triangle, since both boys like Julia, but she’s going with James. Quentin is the awkward teen, socially inept and struggling with the meaning of life. He’s also the main character.
The boys are off to interview for Princeton, but discover their interlocutor has died moments before they arrive. Quentin receives another invitation, though, that leads him through a portal to a secret and reclusive college upstate called Brakebills. He’s ushered into an examination room with smart high school kids around the country who all undertake a magical exam. Quentin is one of the few who passes, and is thus admitted into the exclusive college.
If this sounds a little like Hogwarts, it is. Only, Brakebills is in America and is a college instead of a high school. There are college hijinks such as heavy drinking and lots of sex. Only, it’s a magical place so some of the sex occurs after everybody has shapeshifted into animals. An openly gay character gets in bed with Quentin during a night of group sex. Other graphic TMI bits abound.
At graduation everybody gets a pentagram tattooed on their back with a fire demon trapped inside it they can summon to help in a fight, and off they go. Another running theme is a series of books by a British author about a magical world that siblings travel to for adventure. There are talking animals, and a couple of goats that are gods of the place. If it sounds a little like C. S. Lewis’ The Chronicles of Narnia, it’s because it is very much like C. S. Lewis’ Chronicles of Narnia.
After graduation, Quentin and his friends find a way to go to the Neitherlands, which is a deserted city filled with fountains. Jump in a different fountain, you go to a different world. They make the trip to Fillory (Narnia), and begin their adventures there, saving one of the goat gods from peril.
It’s a well written book, and things work, for the most part, regarding plot. Constant reminders of previous young adult fantasies, including those from the Harry Potter and Narnia series, may leave readers wondering if they’ve traveled down this literary road before. There is considerable foul language and graphic content, so it’s not suitable for younger readers.
Two out of Five Stars