Reiterating my plea for a Pinterest invite, if anyone can give it. E-mail is email@example.com. Thanks in advance.
In spite of my overall disdain for The Magicians, I went ahead and checked out the sequel, The Magician King, from the library. I did this for two reasons. One, I am loathe to judge an author on one book, especially since the major issue I had was a gimmick gone too far, and two, because I am apparently a glutton for punishment. I seriously do not get the love so many have for Lev Grossman.
First things first: the book was, to me, a lot better than The Magicians, mainly because it wasn’t as obviously cribbed from every other fantasy series ever. Yes, it was very Voyage of the Dawn Treader (best Narnia book ever, by the way), but the plot was different enough that it read more as a nod to C. S. Lewis than complete world-theft. Unfortunately, the book was still not very good. There may be spoilers, so be warned.
I get that Grossman’s trying to do the “magic in the real world” thing, and as a result has his characters make references to popular fantasy books, compare magic to computers, and be pretty irreverent (as young folks will be) about the whole magic scene. However, it got really old really fucking fast. Mainly because almost no one I know (and I’m of an age with the characters) actually talks or acts like these characters do. It came across more as “what I think young people should sound like” rather than “what young people sound like,” which typically is dead fucking wrong.
Also, I know that all the characters are supposed to be super-geniuses, but seriously, do they really know damn near everything? I’ve known a lot of people who were ridiculously, mind-bendingly smart. PhDs in mathematics from top-ten schools type smart. Kids who were taking classes at my home-town’s university when they were 13 because the high school didn’t have a class in one academic discipline that was advanced enough kind of smart. And, yes, Harvard, Princeton, Yale, Stanford, MIT and Berkeley smart. They didn’t understand fucking everything. They might have been geniuses at, say, chemistry, but couldn’t get a modern lit reference that I, an intelligent but not off-the-charts intelligent person, would make to save their lives. It seems like the holes in Grossman’s characters’ knowledge are there because he looked at them and said “okay, what should this character not understand?” instead of the much more realistic (in my opinion) method of picking an area or two that an extremely intelligent character would excel at and assuming basic to above-average-yet-not-superhuman knowledge of other disciplines. It was almost like he got halfway through, realized he’d written a bunch of Mary Sues, and had to backtrack to add in flaws.
The pacing and characterization are other areas where book really, really suffers. Not totally unusual, but unfortunately Grossman’s writing is just mediocre enough to not make up for the issues. The pace varies wildly, and the characters are all extremely one-dimensional. You also only learn when a character has changed by another character commenting on the change, not from a change in their behavior that’s written in to the story. For example, one character (Benedict) somehow goes from disliking Quentin in a very teenagerish way to worshiping him after knowing him for about a week. There’s no actual change in Benedict’s behavior that would indicate this; instead, one character comments on how much Benedict now likes Quentin. Show, don’t tell, Mr. Grossman.
Finally, my major complaint with the book is that his endings are terrible. Like, Stephen King novel terrible. Everything resolves, but in a way that just makes you kind of pissed off. For example, Quentin cannot go further up and further in to leave Fillory because he left his passport in the underworld. That happens in the space of one paragraph. Oh fucking please, that and booting Quentin out of Fillory should have taken more than a damned page.
I guess I just have to note that as a fan of genre fiction, I am a little insulted that this is being touted as a book that “transcends” genre, or is somehow more accessible to non-genre fans. It’s tiring if you’ve actually read any fantasy – Grossman’s influences are painfully obvious even if the book isn’t essentially cribbed from other writers like The Magicians was – and so stunningly mediocre it makes me think that the individuals who review this book as the end-all-be-all of low fantasy are really just snobs. Grossman is one of very few modern fantasy writers with the academic background one would expect from a more literary writer (Harvard undergrad, I think Yale graduate school, maybe Princeton), so it seems like others in the literary fiction world allowed themselves to like his books on only his academic strengths. The bottom line is that fantasy, even modern fantasy, even parody fantasy, has been done far better with far less praise than all of this junk, and passed over. I really think that they get passed over because the authors, unlike Grossman, are not the kind of people reviewers have decided they should like.
I’d also like to make the observation that Julia’s story was far, far more interesting than anything else Grossman has written. If he’d done a series of novels about her – the girl who got rejected from the magic academy – it probably would have been much better. That’s actually a fairly original idea.