Harry Potter mixed with The Rules of Attraction? Catcher in the Rye crossed with The Never Ending Story? The Magicians, by Lev Grossman, is a little bit of all of these books. The story follows a discontented high school senior, Quentin Coldwater, as he glumly begins the college application process. Quentin is in love with his best friend's girl, and otherwise unsatisfied with life. The only thing that Quentin really seems to enjoy is the child-like escapism of a series of books called the Fillory Saga (think The Chronicles of Narnia). Quentin wants nothing more than for the land of Fillory to be real; to go on his own adventures there, and leave the drab streets of Brooklyn far behind. When Quentin finds the entrance to an Elite school of magic, called Breakbills, he seems to have gotten his wish. However, Breakbills isn't quite the Hogwarts that the novel derives its inspiration from. Magic is more than waving a wand and saying a made-up Latin word, instead, it's more like calculus. There is no evil dark lord for the students to fight and, as in real life, there are endless shades of grey that they must negotiate in deciding how best to use their powers after they graduate. Quentin struggles with this quest for purpose (with little success), until it's revealed that the magic world of Fillory might not be as much fiction as everyone had thought. The Magicians will appeal to readers of coming of age stories - The Secret History, The Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, Jane Eyre - as well as fans of sword and sorcery fantasy novels. It's a page turner, well written, and a pleasant twist on classic ideas.
Recommended by Tony Pellicone