Friday Book Review: The Magician's Land

Today's book is The Magician's Land by Lev Grossman

One of the benefits of having a teaching job is that you get a substantial break over the holidays. This year, I wrote up a list of books that I wanted to try to get through over the break. As with every year, this list was long and mostly unrealistic. And, once I found out that Lev Grossman's new book was out, I promptly chucked all other books on my list to read it.

I have never been a reader of fantasy novels. I don't have much experience with them. And I generally don't have much desire to read them. But for some reason, the Magician series just captivates me. I think that it's partly due to the fact that the fantasy part, the magic, seems so realistic. In Grossman's books, a person can become a magician (a real magician) if they study very hard. And the study includes things like ancient languages, and physics. Grossman's magicians are scholars. They are clever, and hard-working. It's not a matter of being born with magical powers, although that is somewhat necessary, they mainly have to be very smart, and willing to work. So, first of all, if you love books about scholarship, and the world of the mind, and even academia, these books will appeal to you.

The second thing I love about his books are the characters. They are varied and compelling. Grossman will take the time to really delve into a character. And although the main character is male, he also has strong and interesting female characters. In fact, the female characters tend to outdo the male characters on levels of intelligence and toughness. They are certainly not tokens, like the female characters in so many books of this ilk.

But on to the story. The Magician's Land is the final book in the Magician's trilogy. The first book many have referred to as the adult version of Harry Potter, or Harry Potter goes to college. There is a bit of that, certainly. Our main character, Quentin Coldwater, gets the joy of being a student at a magician's college, and learns that there are magicians hiding out in the world. Being that he's in college, the characters engage in much more adult themed romps, sex, drugs, gambling, murder ect... However, there is a lot more to these books than just a grown up version of Harry Potter. Grossman has a tendency to really surprise the audience with curve balls.  His plot twists are unique, and at times wholly unexpected.

The third book finds Quentin living a sad life as a king who has been thrown out of his land. At the outset of the novel he is taking an Ocean's 11-type heist job with a rag-tag group of outcast magicians.  Through flashbacks we get to find out how he ended up in such a dark place. Throughout the series, Quentin is the perfect anti-hero. He's kind-of lazy, has questionable morals, can be whiny and spends a lot of time feeling sorry for himself. He eventually comes into himself though. It's subtle, but in this final book, you get the opportunity to see Quentin as an adult, and feeling comfortable in his own skin. He accepts his gifts.

If you haven't read the first two books in this series, you really must before reading this one. But if you have, then you know what to expect. Capers, sexy magic, talking animals, traveling between worlds, angsty queens, reluctant gods, and on and on. SO much happens in this book. Fillory is crumbling and the gang must work to save it. We get a return to Brakebills of course, and even a fun jaunt to Brakebills South.  Quentin finally finds out what his special power is, and it's not what you think. I must say, I'm pretty sad that this series is over, it was great!

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