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The Magicians and The Magician King, by Lev Grossman

Man. Okay. These books are awesome. I think everyone's been calling them "Harry Potter for grown ups," which is probably more accurate for these books than absolutely any other books out there. And I've read a lot of books that have been called that. But there's a school for magic, and a group of friends, and on the surface, it's very much like Harry Potter for adults because the school is actually a college, and they all drink and have sex. But that's not the cool part, and it's actually for adults in a different way. This is a book for adults who love Harry Potter, in the best possible way. There are plenty of nerdy references, because the main characters have all read Narnia and Harry Potter and Lord of the Rings, and the main character came very close to breaking my heart. He's not perfect at all, and there are times I outright disliked him, but in the way that you can watch a real friend do selfish, awful things, and just want to shake them and hug them, even though you know they have to figure it out themselves. It's a book about growing up that felt more real to me than most books on that subject. Actually, I just saw it referred to as "Catcher in the Rye for fantasy fans," which is probably even better than "Harry Potter for adults." Except I didn't really like Catcher. But it's still completely accurate. Quentin is much more Holden Caulfield than Harry Potter. He's not an orphan, he has no special destiny (well, maybe a little). He's just an unhappy young adult with a chip on his shoulder, because he wants something more out of life, no matter what he has. He's unhappy like most people are unhappy - not because of some great tragedy, but because he sees life as a fucking tragedy. Which, incidentally, is why I hated Holden. But Quentin pinged for me the way Holden has pinged for generations of teenagers. And because reading about unhappy people is much easier when they're learning magic along the way.

I've also never had an author toy with my emotions as a shipper so much. I can't tell what he's doing! In the first book, Quentin, the main character, sees his friend being given a blow job by another student, which is how he figures out that Eliot's gay, and literally asks himself why Eliot wouldn't want Quentin. Then Quentin dates a girl - a very nice girl, Alice, with whom he has a realistic relationship. It doesn't always go well, because Quentin is a fuck-up in many ways, but they clearly love each other. Alice is wonderful, and Quentin clearly should and does love her, though he should have clearly done better by her. Also Quentin sort of has a threesome with Eliot and Janet, but mostly he has sex with Janet, and Eliot is just sort of there. Quentin was very drunk, and no one wants to talk about it afterwards, so it's a bit unclear.

And then in the second book, Eliot and Quentin are both kings of Fillory together, but nothing happens, and I had finally resigned myself that I was just being ridiculous, and Quentin wanting to get in on Eliot's action was just part of the confusion of having his first gay friend. Quentin spends half the book trying to be in love with his high school crush (which is definitely a mistake, but Quentin is growing, and spends most of that time genuinely being good to Julia, and not being his immature, selfish bitchself from the first book, so it's not a disaster at all), and the other half sleeping with another very kind, smart girl who is writing a thesis on dragons, because Poppy is fucking awesome.

And then in the last scene, Eliot kisses Quentin on the mouth.

But it's a good-bye kiss, because Eliot is staying on as high king of Fillory, and Quentin is getting kicked back to Earth, because Ember is the Fillorian version of Aslan, and they both fucking suck. Actually, if these books are anything, they're written for every kid who had their heart broken when Aslan sent everyone home at the end of each book, and every girl who saw themselves in Susan, who gets fuck all from Aslan in the end.

If I know books at all, this is going to be a trilogy. But I have no idea of Grossman has any intention of pairing up Eliot and Quentin, though I am sort of mystified by his writing if he's not. I feel like he's just slashing his own characters in his head.

The one consistent complaint I've seen about Grossman is that his writing is a bit disjointed. People said the first book didn't flow together very well, and not much of the main plot beyond setting really carried over into the second book. I'm very much about the journey, not the destination, so none of this has really been a turn off for me. But it does mean that while I do think there's going to be a third book, I wouldn't call the end to either of the first two a cliff hanger. Room for growth? Yes. But not annoyingly open ended. So it means I can wait another two years or whatever until the third one comes out. But in the meantime, everyone should be reading these.
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October 2015


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