By Lev Grossman
Quentin Coldwater is a brilliant high school student who is bored with life. He’s always looking for something in the way of entertainment or satisfaction that seems just out of reach. As a means of escape, he constantly re-reads a fantasy novel set is a mythical world called Fillory. He doesn’t think magic is real but when he finds himself at a school for the magically gifted, he’s forced to change his whole belief system about the world and what he thought it was.
After passing the grueling and somewhat enlightening (for Quentin anyway) entrance exam, he’s admitted to Brakebills College for Magical Pedagogy and begins partaking of the college life which according to this book is all about booze, sex, and love. The years fly by and Quentin finds his little niche at the school becoming part of a small, tight-knit group of students deemed the physicals due to the magical discipline they specialize in. When graduation approaches, he finds himself once more bored with the hedonistic life he’s living — that is until a school friend finds a way into Fillory. Quentin doesn’t immediately believe they will be able to get to Fillory but when his debauched life catches up with him, he makes the call and they embark on a journey none expected.
I was so looking forward to this book and while I wasn’t disappointed (in fact I liked the book a lot) I was sort of annoyed. The book was billed as Harry Potter for adults and there are a lot of small jibs at the story and a lot of little similarities that you can’t help but notice even if you’ve only seen the movies. Brakebills is Hogwarts complete with a high astronomy tower, school uniforms, and right at the beginning, Quentin is teamed up with another boy, Penny, and a girl, Alice, in his class. They don’t get along as famously but they do find themselves together for better or worse. Grossman does take a few shots at Rowlings world and the magic. For instance, practicing magic with a wand is looked down upon. He doesn’t stop there — the world of Fillory and the “quest” they set upon is Tolkien and C.S. Lewis inspired, and, wait for it, he also throws in a bit of Star Wars at the end. (That part is a nice bit of irony that’s actually quite amusing though.)
Why mention this? Well, I like my Harry Potter. There I said it. Now, I’m not trying to defend, I’m just pointing out the obvious comparisons in this book to that work and many others. He takes a bit here and there and makes it his own and it works. What annoyed me was the slightly mean-spirited way in which some references were made.
THAT SAID, I thought this book was great fun and even stayed up way too late to finish reading it. I had to know if they would get out of Fillory alive and what would happen if and when Quentin made it back to the real world.
The characters are great and even if you hate what they are sometimes doing and becoming, you still want to be one of them. The magic is thrilling and seems so very real that you too want to find Fillory. It’s a good book, entertaining, amusing and worth the read.