Monday, August 17, 2009

A review: The Magicians

The new novel by Lev Grossman, The Magicians, has perhaps the best opening I've ever read:

"Quentin did a magic trick. Nobody noticed."

The next 402 pages aren't bad, either.

I've been excited about The Magicians since I first started hearing about it earlier this year, and when I began reading it, I braced hard, certain that I had built my expectations up into a fantastical, Gaudi-like edifice, and that no matter how good the book was, it wouldn't be as good as the imaginary book that had been living in my head.

I don't even remember what that imagined book was going to contain. The Magicians broke my heart in exactly the right way, along the fault line of a lifetime's worth of reading.

Imagine that you find out one day that you can do magic. Not card tricks, and sleight of hand, (although Quentin can do those, too) but real magic. Spells and incantations, words and will. Such a thing will change your life utterly. And when I say, "change," there is a voice in your head that hears, "better," yes?

Imagine, too, that the story that you always wanted to step into, whether through the Wardrobe or the Looking Glass, was real. And that you could go. It would be magic, right? The place where you always belonged, where secretly your truer, better self was waiting for you to find her?

The Magicians wrestles with these questions, and with the assumptions that underlie them, and does so elegantly. This is a book that really thinks about what happens when a magician by training discovers he is also a magician by blood, when a class of magicians graduates into the mundane world, that wonders what actually happens in between the lines of our favorite childhood books. It is a dark, harsh story, as steeped in reality as it is in magic, the kind of thing that leaves ghosts in your thoughts to haunt your reading far beyond when you have closed the back cover.

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