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A 40-ish publisher (editor, project manager, etc.), husband, and father of an even number of offspring, I grew up, or failed to, reading fantasy and sci-fi. I still enjoy reading, and now am trying to write. My favorite books include YA fantasy, manga, biography, and advice to authors. I'm also a former history major/grad student/high school teacher and assessment writer. Now I work for a school supplement publisher, specializing in high-low chapter books. I spend a lot of my time controlling reading levels. At night, I cut loose and use long words. W00t!

Sunday, August 7, 2011

The Magicians, by Lev Grossman

It was hard to put the book down, but some of Lev Grossman's writing in The Magicians bothered me.

This post has SPOILERS

First, there was the problem of Quentin Coldwater, the protagonist. He developed from a sympathetic nebbish into the kind of imminent sociopath who, after he snaps and murders a dozen people, the neighbors describe on TV as "quiet, I dunno, always kept to himself, and stuff."

He does this because he has just lived his dream, and still feels empty. Quentin comments on this himself, long before the full extent of the failure of his dreams is known. I wanted to feel bad for Quentin, but he kept reacting peevishly to events, which is, I take it, the author's intention. However, it made for an unlikeable protagonist, a non-hero (because he actually tries to be the good guy, only he doesn't really care about it, so he's not an anti-hero, and not a hero). 

Second, and this is my chance to be peevish, there were all the typos and discontinuities. I know, it's not cricket for someone in publishing to go on about this, and in truth, my company's much shorter books often end up with similar, shall we say, features. It may have bothered me as much out of a desire to avoid the busman's holiday (marking up a novel I'm reading for fun) as out of any real critique of the author or, more deservedly, the editor. I wonder if the sequel (don't think I'm not ordering it later tonight from Pegasus Books) will be any different in that regard.

Third, what really bothers me is the feeling I've been successfully played. A large part of the plot concerns another set of fantasy novels, collectively known as the Fillory Books (after the fantasy land in which they partly take place), by an author named Plover. Now, it all sounds totally plausible, and there's even a bit of story about the (plain as the almost Aquiline nose on my face) interactions of Plover with CS Lewis, whose Narnia series closely parallels the Fillory books in so many ways.

There's a Christopher Plover website, wikipedia entries on Fillory...it's just so fishy. 

Then it struck me. I - the fantasy book reader, the former devotee of Plover's contemporaries Lewis and Tolkien and also of McAffrey, and admirer of LeGuin and Aldiss and Atwood and Mieville and Rowling - had never heard of Plover, or Fillory. I practically lived in Middle-Earth (in middle school, of course), and dreamed the craggy mountains of Pern, and goggled at the scale and detail of Helliconia, and returned in awe after two decades' absence to the subtle chills of Gethen, but never had I heard of Fillory.

I think that's weird. I think there was never any Plover, no Fillory Books, no Chadwick children in literature.

Maybe I'll try to order The World in the Walls and see what arrives. Maybe I'll be the first to fall for it, and get a handwritten taunting from Grossman. Or maybe I'll get a dated fantasy novel too much like Narnia for me to enjoy (one of the kids enters through a grandfather clock!).

Fourth, the ending doesn't seem to fit the beginning. Maybe I'm not understanding it right. It feels like not the ending at all, which suggests that Grossman means for The Magicians and its sequel to be read as one book in two sets of covers. It's a small point, but I've read repeatedly that a novel ends with the question its readers are led to ask at the beginning. To me, this doesn't. I hope Quentin Coldwater snaps out of his funk and finds happiness. The thing is, the way his life has been going, his only hope may be a sharp blow to the head with a 2x4.

Penguin releases the hardback of the sequel, The Magician King, tomorrow.

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