To say this is a Harry Potter novel for grownups would be a gross misconception of the author’s message.
Quentin Coldwater is 17 and living a normal life in Brooklyn. He has the usual teen angst–he’s in love with Julia, but Julia loves his best friend James. The three are interviewing for Ivy League colleges when something strange happens to Quentin. He is tapped by an unknown college called Brakebills that teaches magic.
Yes, Harry Potter kind of magic, only there are no wands. But there are classes, practical lessons, and a groovy old mansion on the Hudson where the school is magically protected.
Quentin was one of those kids who had always believed in magic when he was little and was sorely disappointed when he found out it didn’t exist. He used to lose himself in the fantasy books on Fillory (a Narnia-esque place to which the Chatwin children are magically transported and have adventures.)
So when he is summoned magically to Brakebills to sit for an entrance exam, he is stunned. He’s even more stunned when he is accepted and begins his lessons. It is a heady, euphoric time for Quentin, who just can’t wrap his brain around the fact that magic is really real and he is getting trained to be a wizard. He makes friends, finds a girlfriend, and his time at school slips by in a magical puff of glitter.
But then they all graduate and this is where Grossman gets to the point of the idea of magic. These kids (in their early twenties) are at loose ends. They could continue their studies, but they have the non-magical world at their disposal to be manipulated however they want. Money, drugs, sex, all easily attainable in vast quantities. The author shows how getting exactly what you want can sometimes be a very dangerous thing. If you don’t have to work for your pleasures in life, they lose their meaning.
But then Penny, one of Quentin’s former classmates, finds a way to Fillory–it truly does exist. Quentin is beyond excted–finally an adventure of which he and his magical skills are worthy. But nothing ever turns out the way we want, does it?
Lev Grossman has written a deeply engrossing book about magic, its power, and how that power corrupts. It’s a fascinating read for anyone (adult, that its) who loves the Harry Potter books, as it is a perfect counterpoint. Magic isn’t all saving the day, about quests with happy endings, or character building. Magic is a much deeper than that, filled with the complexities of light and dark.
He has written more in the series and I am very much looking forward to reading them.