By Lev Grossman
416 pages; Viking
Lev Grossman's playful fantasy novel, The Magicians , pays homage to a variety of sources ( Harry Potter, Narnia, Fortress of Solitude ), but with such verve and ease that you quickly forget the references and lose yourself in the story. The protagonist, Quentin Coldwater, is a perpetual misfit, a disenchanted senior at a Brooklyn high school whose longing for a world in which magic is more than the stuff of children's classics is fulfilled when he finds himself transported to Brakebills, an exclusive, exhaustingly rigorous college for sorcerers set on enchanted land somewhere in upstate New York. His mood lifts as he takes his place in this eccentric, brainy society, acquiring a girlfriend, sophisticated pals, and the ability to cast awe-inspiring spells. On graduating, Quentin moves to Manhattan, where the living is easy (even a third-rate magician can quickly unlock the codes of an ATM), the boozing hard, the pleasures hedonistic. We know this dissipated bubble has to burst, and it does, plunging Quentin and his friends into a parallel universe, where good and evil claw at each other for dominance. Clearly, for all the supernatural elements—talking trees, centaurs, time travel—Grossman's characters belong to the here and now. Their sex lives are messy, they curse, and they learn that bravado is a thin cover for moral cowardice. Even in a magical land, growing up, it seems, is hard to do.
See all of this month's reviews