I Just Read: The Magician’s Land

The Magician's LandWait. Is that “The Magician Lands” or “The Magician’s Lands?” Ah, the perils of adding an S (possessive or pluralizing) to a word in of your title. You risk turning your book into the literary equivalent of Kroger/Kroger’s or Longhorn/Longhorns. Mothers Day/Mother’s Day. Daylight Saving/Savings. I could go on and on. But seriously, the title of Lev Grossman’s third Magicians novel makes good sense about halfway through the story. Yes, there is literally a ‘Magician’s Land.’ And it’s not the land you’d think it is.

Grossman’s main character, Quentin Coldwater, has obviously evolved as a character (and matured into a man) as the series has progressed. He’s no longer a binge-drinking dill-hole, and he’s not quite as self-centered and self-delusional as he once was. Quentin’s character arc perfectly reflects the author’s focus on two themes: The idea of a boy awkwardly maturing to manhood, and the conflict of fantasy vs. reality.

Throughout the Magicians trilogy, Quentin has phased through these dichotomies like a trauma victim passing through the stages of grief. Quentin’s stages of development have gone something like this:
1) Wishful thinking
2) Wish fulfillment
3) Disillusionment with said wishes
4) A renewed appreciation in the ‘mundane’
5) Nostalgia for his days of childish wishing

I can’t remember reading a series of genre books that are so dedicated to their themes—to fleshing them out, to adding nuance to the ideas and to progressing them. Just for fun, pretend that you’re back in your high school Literature class and see how many references you find to these two variations of Grossman’s overarching theme:
– Separation from father figures (and deity figures)
– The transforming/transporting power of literature (both the reading and the writing of it)

Another aspect of Grossman’s writing that really stands out is his ability to write a truly memorable villain. Grossman introduces his worst monsters with scenes that make you feel like you’re stuck in a nightmare, moving in slow-motion. These scenes are like David Lynch creepy, and I can’t think of any horror writer that can match them.

Unfortunately, the third book’s creepiest character is not the Big Bad. And the conflict at the heart of the book’s fantasy-world storyline is as weak as day-old Coor’s Light. Even during the strum-und-drang finale, the main characters don’t have much to do. But along the way there are plenty of great scenes and character moments. Grossman does open the door (literally) to more adventures in the future, so this is one grown man who’s childishly wishing that this trilogy has a fourth installment.

In the meantime, at least we have a potential TV series to look forward to.

I just read: The Magician King

magiciankingIn 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.