In June of last year, I was lucky enough to read two great books back-to-back: Lev Grossman’s The Magicians and Donna Tartt’s The Secret History. Some readers might cringe at my drawing a connection between both of them. Reader reviews of The Magicians have been mixed. Some people dismiss it as simply a New Adult version of Harry Potter (others have praised it as a New Adult version of Harry Potter). The Secret History, on the other hand, is an overwhelmingly (and deservingly) adored.
Both novels are set in cloistered collegiate environments, and the authors hardly try at all to make you like their characters, who are selfish, cliquish, and arrogant. In The Secret History, the character’s misanthropic tendencies are the whole point of the book. In The Magicians, the flaws of the characters help to highlight the treacherousness, the ruthlessness of their magical world. To me, reading The Secret History was an event—it slightly skewed everything I’ve read and written since. The Magicians wasn’t that momentous to me, but it was just as enjoyable. Of the two, I would re-read The Magicians first. And when I finished it last June, I was raring to pick up its sequel.
And that’s when I made one of my classic reading mistakes. I told myself to wait. I don’t know why this is my usual inclination when I find a series I like…to let it linger, as the Cranberries would say. It’s like I think genre books are rich desserts, or Italian meals—part of me thinks I need a buffer period between each, or I’d get sick of them. So instead of reading The Magician King right after The Magicians, I read The Secret History, and that ended up being a good choice. But then I read something else. Then something else.
Before I knew it, a whole year had passed before Grossman’s second Magicians book bobbed back to the top of my reading list. And it was just as fun, as scary, and as intricate as his first. Harry Potter was adapted into theme park rides and Lego video games. The Magicians’ world would be more likely to become a series on FX. Sometimes Grossman’s word-choice gets a little clunky: “He took a breath, tremblier than he wanted to be.” But often his descriptions are beautiful. I read several paragraphs twice. He breathes life into his fantastic scenes with small, mundane details. That’s a technique that I hope to remember and use myself. And he’s really good at taking a ridiculous mystical being and making that entity totally terrifying. Which of course, it would be, if you actually saw it in real life.
Here’s hoping that the final book in his trilogy will be just as fun and harsh. The Magician Land will hit shelves on August 5. I’ve learned my lesson this time; I won’t defer my gratification. I’ll snap that book up right away.