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Friday, May 20, 2011

The Magician King by Lev Grossman

The Magicians & The Magician King by Lev Grossman

First, since it's a favorite of mine, I want to talk a little bit about The Magicians by Lev Grossman:

Viking Adult, August 2009  ISBN 9780670020553
It's hard not to write a massive post on this book alone (and I should know because I just deleted four  paragraphs) so without giving away too much here is the short synopsis:

Boy loves escapist fantasy, especially books about the world of Fillory (think Narnia). Boy is recruited to join magical academy of learning (think Harry Potter) because, surprise!, magic is real. Boy finds that magic doesn't make a person happier in their own skin and that while magic might be real, you still can't just hop into a cupboard and head off to an imaginary place to have historical-type adventures on horseback. Boy also discovers that when you can use magic to make or take what you need the drive to be a contributing member of society is nil. Then comes the twist (two-thirds of the way into the book proving that Grossman is as patient as he is wise) and a wry story about what really happens when people get a taste of power turns into something of a horror tale for fantasy readers. I want desperately to tell you more (and you'll pick some of it up just in reading any review for the next book) but let me just close by saying READ IT. Well, first brace your inner child and then read it.

And now, onward...

The Magician King: A Novel
Viking Adult, August 9, 2011 ISBN:  9780670022311
Quentin Coldwater is finally a king of Fillory. Along with two Brakebill's classmates and a childhood friend named Julia, he rules the magical land from a gorgeous throne, hunts and celebrates and generally lives a good life. Having apparently not learned quite enough from the last series of adventures, he allows his boredom with jewel-encrusted monarchical living to drive him into a dangerous quest that ends when he and Julia are abruptly expelled from Fillory and dumped in Quentin's parent's neighborhood.  Interspersed with the story of their down-and-dirty attempts to get back into Fillory through the world of unsanctioned magic is Julia's tragic back story. Julia didn't make it into Brakebill's, but also didn't succumb to masking spells designed to keep her from remembering that a parallel magical world exists.  The knowledge that the world holds real magic that she is not allowed to access drives her almost mad and shapes her into a powerful anti-hero and foil for Quentin's faith in the system (be it Brakebill's, Fillory or the magical world at large) This is one of the book's recurring messages : power corrupts, not overtly  but subtly, like a malignancy. Quentin and his friends are corrupted by the ease of a magically-propelled life. The magical world is corrupted by it's self-absorption and ennui, evidenced by it's rejection of Julia (and later of Quentin). Julia is corrupted before she even gets to her power, in just the act of reaching into the magical world she is driven off-kilter.  

On another level, this is the ultimate horror-scenario for the escapist fantasy reader. Grossman delights in repeatedly yanking the chair out from under the reader (to be fair, it's not egregious and in this grim context it works) who has just comfortably settled in for a read about wish-fulfillment. Fantasy writing generally has a certain rhythm. Part of that rhythm is the happy (or mostly happy) ending. Grossman has created something that will disturb readers on a more fundamental level that gore or megalomaniacal evil could ever achieve.  To paraphrase comments from another horror writer (I can't attribute right now, but will look it up and get back to you): horror isn't the blood and the gore or the spooky noises and a creepy wind. It's taking something utterly familiar and making it unrecognizable. 

Grossman's latest book is a slight let-down in that while the first book felt like a complete story, the second feels more like a bridge book. It seems to both start and end slightly off the ground, hopefully indicating that a third book will be added to the story arc before Grossman turns his attention to something else. But that's the worst thing I can say about this dark, layered, funny, heartbreaking fantasy. Lev Grossman could change the face of the genre if he keeps it up.

Recommended for readers of: Peter Beagle, Neil Gaiman, CS Lewis, JK Rowling.
Not recommended for young readers (under 16)  because of language, content etc.
This book will be released on August 9th, 2011. Please click here to hook up with Indiebound.org and pre-order this book from your local Indie bookstore. (You can also pick up the first book while you're shopping!)

Thursday, May 19, 2011

This seems to be a book blog

So this is where it all started...I has this job, as many of you may know, at a giant indie bookstore called Joseph-Beth Booksellers.  Jo-Beth, for a variety of reasons, closed this and several other locations.  I was left jobless.  Having spent my life as a voracious reader, I found myself in some kind of book junkie withdrawal.  Plenty to read, no one to talk books with. Correction: no steady stream of impressionable strangers to press books upon, to hunt down obscure titles for, to mercilessly market my latest favorite to. No drop by visits from authors, no hot and cold running books...

It was like being exiled to some cold, cold place.

And then I realized that out there are dozens, nay dozens and an extra handful of people out there who actually want to read other people's opinions about books.  I am rife with opinions about books.  And thusly is a blog born. Please, please, please if you read something and you feel one way or the other about it tell me in the comments.  This is my way of connecting to a bunch of bookstore people (something I also have the extreme pleasure of doing two days a week at Eljay's Books in Dormont.  If you haven't seen the new store yet please, stop by!!! www.eljaysbks.com )

A few things you should know before we begin:

I rarely bother finishing books I don't like at least a lot. I will be reading all kinds of stuff, but only bothering to complete and talk about something I really think is worth spending more time on.  I read a lot of new stuff but I'll be going back to re-read some books I haven't gotten back to in years and when I do, I will talk about them too. I also did a lot of mini-reviews for the shelves at JB and I will probably get around to posting a bunch of that as well.

One more thing: if you read my blog and feel a sudden and violent desire to monetarily encourage all this madness head over to www.perfectfishdesigns.com and buy yourself something nice. It's better than donating money to me and getting nothing but a warm feeling. I spend a lot of my free time crocheting cute things and tatting lace and then when I have too much I sell something.