Grown-up Harry Potter fans now have something on the horizon in addition to the frustratingly delayed movie version of The Half-blood Prince. The Magicians by Lev Grossman, due this summer, is sort of a combination of Harry Potter, the Narnia books, and Less Than Zero. The first half of this novel is about a college of magic hidden in upstate New York, and its students, in addition to learning spells and methods of controlling matter, face all the attendant college issues: boozing it up, sex, excruciatingly dull lectures. It's funny and clever and dark. Even darker is the novel's second half, in which a number of the school's graduates take a journey to a land called Fillory (a place not unlike Narnia) on a random, unspecified quest for . . . something. Their petty squabbles, substance abuse habits, and sexual misadventures accompany them, complicating matters considerably, especially once it becomes clear what they are actually questing for.
Quentin Coldwater is our "hero," at the story's opening a high school senior hoping to gain fall admission to an Ivy League university. When he is instead offered a place at Brakebills College, he has some misgivings:
"Quentin's mind spun. Maybe he should ask to see a brochure. And no one had said anything about tuition yet. And gift horses and all that notwithstanding, how much did he know about this place? Suppose it really was a school for magic. Was it any good? What if he'd stumbled into some third-tier magic college by accident? He had to think practically. He didn't want to be committing himself to some community college of sorcery when he could have Magic Harvard or whatever."
Needless to say, Quentin becomes a student and the story takes off from there. I read Lev Grossman's first novel, Codex, a few months ago and thought it was really good up until the ending, which fell apart so completely that, frankly, it kind of tainted the rest of the book for me. Too bad, because Grossman had come up with a compelling story of a lost medieval manuscript that he mated surprisingly well with a subplot about an involved computer game. The Magicians holds together until the very end and proves a highly entertaining, satisfying read with no childish goo or pulled punches. Look for it in August 2009.