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Mike Reyes, aka Mr. Controversy, has considered himself a writer ever since he was a child. He wrote for various school publications from about 1995 until 2006, and currently runs both The Bookish Kind and Mr. Controversy, which is an offshoot of the regular column he wrote in High School. He's also a film journalist/critic for Cocktails & Movies and CinemaBlend, as well as the author of several short stories such as "The Devil v. George W. Bush". Any inquiries for reprinting, writing services, or general contact, should be forwarded to: mikereyeswrites@gmail.com

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Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Book Review: "The Magicians" by Lev Grossman

We come now to the first library read in the book review segment of the site. I am a huge advocate of libraries, library preservation and expansion, and of course reading in general. It may sound cliched, but I urge everyone to go to their public library often. You'd be surprised what they have for there for free.

After finishing Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, an era had ended. The story that captivated the eyes and hearts of readers like myself for a decade had come to an end, and all we had to look forward to was a couple more films that may or may not live up to the awesome standard the books before them had laid out. Some moved on to the Percy Jackson series...I can honestly say I was not one of them. Jackson lacked the charm or the empathy that Potter reveled in, and seemed like nothing more than an Americanized Harry Potter with Greek Mythology as its canvas. So imagine my surprise when I stumbled upon a review on Pajiba for The Magicians, which basically seems like a darker, more thematically adult version of Harry Potter.

The Magicians tells the story of Quentin Coldwater, a brainiac from Brooklyn who one day finds the world of magic by mistake. Sure he loves magic, as is demonstrated in his love for both sleight of hand and the fictional Fillory sequence of books (which is a thinly veiled Narnia parody), but never in his wildest dreams did he imagine that the magical world was real. After a college interview gone horribly wrong, he winds up at Brakebills College, a college for magical study located in its own enchanted (and hidden) corner of Upstate New York. The seasons lag behind a couple months, the fountains are gateways to parts unknown, and Welters takes the place of Quidditch as the magical sport of choice. After a rough examination process, Quentin is accepted among the fold of other burgeoning witches and wizards that are trying to be the best of the best, in hopes of...well, just graduating. But Quentin and his friends discover that the fictional world of their literary childhood memories turns out to be an actual place, which is when things start to become dangerous for a change.

The book is divided into four "books", which is very convenient to the story's format. Indeed, every chapter ends on a cliffhanger and every book ends on a bigger cliffhanger, which makes for a read that very easily seems like a episodic television show. With this book, Lev Grossman is the J.J. Abrams of the literary world, with a dash of J.K. Rowling. His prose is addicting and intelligent, which helps make this book a cut above the Potter books in the respect of language, as well as thematically grown up matters. Our hero Quentin isn't as heroic or stoic as Harry was. He falls in love with the drink, he experiments with drugs, and he cheats on his girlfriend by accident. As a result of his hedonistic actions, we get a hero that's conflicted and imperfect, but ultimately regretful and insecure of his actions. Indeed, the entire Brakebills crowd seem to be the naughty American counterparts of the Hogwarts gang, but they're all the more interesting for it.

When they crossover to Fillory, they are reborn as they slog their way through a perilous quest, and this is where the only thing holding this book back from a Five Star "Must Own" label occurs. The rest of the book seems to zoom by so fast, due to the fact that it tries to do a series worth of adventuring and moral exploration in one book. Though it does mostly succeed in this admirable task, by the end of the book I'd still wanted more. The story hit the notes it needed to, and the quest was quite epic, but I just feel that it might have benefited from at the very least a longer page count. Also, a minor subplot seemed a little underdeveloped involving Quentin and his hometown crush Julia, but that's neither here or there. Major points are scored back with an ending that leaves the franchise open but feels naturally rewarding, but I still maintain that there could have been more questing in Fillory and there could have been a whole other book on their lives in New York after graduation. Ultimately, I still loved this book and highly recommend it to anyone who's feeling the Potter Itch, but doesn't want to merely read the books over again.

I'm Currently Reading: Indiana Jones and the Spear of Destiny by Elaine Lee/Shutter Island by Dennis Lehane

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