This has been marketed as Harry Potter for adults. That it is not. If it’s going to be compared to any children’s book, Chronicles of Narnia would definitely relate more. But even then, it skews heavily to the adult side. I think the whole point is a counter response to C.S. Lewis’ innocent childrens’ books.
Quentin is hopelessly attached to a childhood fantasy series he read as a kid, that take place in the magical land called Fillory. This is embarrassing for him since he’s a high-school senior getting ready to apply for colleges. But he finally has his ultimate dream come true as he discovers a type of magical portal to Brakebills, a school in upstate New York for magicians. But instead of being completely over the moon with happiness, he slowly learns that the adventurous life he’s read in books doesn’t match up to the one at his school. Magic turns out to be hard work & tedious. There aren’t any big villains to battle. He isn’t the hero of his story. Or I guess I should say, so he thinks…?
It was slow to start out, but it when it does pick up, it’s full blast. But it wasn’t too heavily ladled with character building & world building, it just took me a while to get used to the weird combination of fantasy in an urban reality in the beginning. But that eventually changes to Quentin’s time at school, then Quentin & his friends after graduation, & finally…no spoilers, but there’s a big leap into fantasy at toward the end.
I think a lot of this book is possibly a set up for the rest of the series, but I was never bored. Quentin is a lot like us fantasy lovers. I may be 21 years old, but every time I pass an old-school looking wardrobe I’m secretly hoping there’s a whole other world inside. Quentin just takes this feeling of possibility to the extreme.
Unlike a lot of other reviewers, I really like Quentin! From reading so many reviews about how annoying he is, I expected to find a whiny, miserable character. I understand, because originally Quentin kind of bugged me. He becomes so jealous of his friend James that it had me wishing we were following James’ POV more. Quentin lacked two things I love most in main characters, confidence & a certain level of positivity.
But as the story goes on you see his humor more, it’s more dark than sarcastic. He curses a lot, he loves a good drink, sure he may seem a bit depressed at times, but he’s coming to terms with the fact that maybe magic won’t suddenly make his whole life better like he’s been wishing all his life. Give the kid a break. Grossman also does an excellent job of letting his diction grow with the age of his characters. The book starts to read less and less like a YA novel as they get older, but it’s only a slight shift.
Other reviews I’ve read have said that they feel Grossman doesn’t appreciate the fantasy genre & thinks himself above it. That’s total crap. The book is like a homage to fantasy, but dialed up to be more realistic. It’s chockfull of tropes & little allusions. But the most compelling battles are not with the forces of evil, but within the struggle of the characters themselves. The novel becomes almost philosophical as Quentin graduates & becomes incredibly hedonistic. It’s almost reminiscent of Wilde. Grossman also invokes DFW with his frequent use of “fantods” in a style that fits the school boy camaraderie. He also combines his clear knowledge of fantastical themes with his ability to present Quentin’s thoughts in a convincingly real way.
The story tries to take the world of children’s fantasy & see it through a realistic lens. Naturally, there’d be some problems. It’s about a boy trying to get over his childhood disillusions & the need to find happiness in real life, not just fantasy.
My problems with the books were small because I really did enjoy it. I just didn’t see a need to really include Quentin’s, and later Alice’s, parents at all. They took away from the story. Also, without spoiling anything, the reason for the big fight between Quentin & Alice was stupid in my opinion. I don’t see the point of including it. The last one’s a small thing, but at one point Eliot says there’s seven of them, but I think there’s eight? Anybody want to tell me why I can’t count properly?
I haven’t read the others in the series yet, but I definitely think I will. I have too many unanswered questions not to. Fogg gives me weird vibes, plus I’m not sure about Julia’s role yet.
Great book for fantasy lovers, but it’s more about the repercussions of loving fantasy than a novel you can truly escape into & fall in love with.
“Look at your life and see how perfect it is. Stop looking for the next secret door that is going to lead you to your real life. Stop waiting. This is it: there’s nothing else. It’s here, and you’d better decide to enjoy it or you’re going to be miserable wherever you go, for the rest of your life, forever.”