Fantasy & Science Fiction magazine has a long piece about The Magician's Book and two other titles -- Cheek by Jowl, an essay collection by Ursula K. Le Guin, and a new novel, The Magicians, by Lev Grossman, which comes out on August 11. Even if Lev (book critic for Time magazine) weren't a good friend, I'd be fervently recommending The Magicians to everyone who fell under the spell of Narnia or Harry Potter as a child and has been thinking about what this means to the adults we've become.
It's the story of Quentin Coldwater, a glum teenage Brooklynite preparing for his first year of university, who suddenly finds himself enrolled instead in a secret college of magic. Like most of the other students at Brakebills, Quentin grew up on a series of children's novels about a magical land called Fillory, emblem of all the wonder he longs for but that seems forever out of reach.
The Magicians is a adult's book, one that considers the sort of questions you only think to ask about Narnia once you've grown up, such as: Is it really a good idea to meddle in the politics of a strange country you barely understand? Wouldn't the ability to perform magic drain much of the challenge and purpose out of life? If trees really could talk, would they have anything very interesting to say? Instead of deflating the novel's spell, this skepticism liberates the story from the old fantasy cliches. It's a perfectly gripping book, with some ravishing episodes (Quentin gets turned into a migrating goose) and a wide-open quality about What Happens Next that I found exhilarating.
In a way, what Lev's done with The Magicians has much in common with what I tried to do in The Magician's Book, a resemblance furthered by the title and the fact that the novel's delightfully ingenious web site is www.themagiciansbook.com. We're not even close to the same person (honest!); it just must be something in the air around here.
Incidentally, the Fantasy and Science Fiction essay is written by the also brilliant and immensely talented Elizabeth Hand, whose most recent book, Generation Loss, I can't recommend highly enough, particular for anyone with an affection for punk rock, Maine islands and sinister ancient pagan cults.