Fantasy

For grown up Quentin, the thrill is gone

 

Expelled from a Narnia-like land, a magician faces turmoil in the final installment of the Fillory trilogy.

 
 <span class="cutline_leadin">The Magician’s Land</span>. Lev Grossman. Viking. 401 pages. $27.95.
The Magician’s Land. Lev Grossman. Viking. 401 pages. $27.95.

Books exert a sort of magic when you are immersed in them. They are machines for supernatural travel, transporting you to times and places long gone (or places that don’t exist at all). Reading is telepathic; you know someone else from the inside. The fate of a fictional character matters, sometimes more than real events. The power of the illusion is immense and intense. That’s why we have fan fiction, cosplay and a million websites.

The Magician’s Land is the final installment in Lev Grossman’s trilogy about Quentin Coldwater, an intelligent but lonely young man who learns that magic is real. But this novel at its heart is also about books and their power.

At the start of the book, Quentin is almost 30 and has been ejected from Fillory, the Narnia-like land that was the subject of a series of books he obsessed over as a kid. The book geek’s dream — that you can truly enter the fantasy world where everything will be better, including yourself — has turned sour.

He winds up working as a sort of magical mercenary, part of a group assembled to steal an object, just like you’ve seen in a million movies. That quest starts — where else? — in a bookstore, just a strip mall chain outlet, but Quentin “felt at home in bookstores, and he hadn’t had that feeling much lately.”

Woven throughout are knowing references to books and libraries as objects and places with special power. The books at the magical academy Brakebills fly free from their shelves and even reproduce. The Neitherlands, the hub of the multiverse for traveling between realms, is filled with libraries.

Quentin is conscious of his own narrative: After graduating from Brakebills, “he’d thought life was going to be like a novel, starring him on his own personal hero’s journey, and the world would provide him with an endless series of evils to triumph over and life lessons to learn.”

And it does — but not in the fantastic Fillorian ways he’d envisioned. Life is real and hard and messy, even for magicians who travel to storybook realms.

Quentin wrestles with the questions of adulthood that go well beyond career choices. He has to define who he is, outside of Brakebills, outside of his family and friends, outside of the magical land where he really was a king.

The first book in the trilogy, The Magicians, was carelessly described as Harry Potter with sex and drugs. The second volume, The Magician King, was a darker take on The Chronicles of Narnia. But in all of three books, especially the latest, Grossman is doing far more than riffing on popular works of fantasy for adolescents. He’s telling a specific story, and you genuinely care about Quentin, especially if you have bookish nerd tendencies.

Grossman is also making the case that stories like this are much more than escapism, the label that gets attached to so much genre fiction. The writers of such works, if they pull off their illusions, are creating real worlds, even when those worlds have talking animals and flying carpets. For readers, those worlds are as real as Henry VIII’s court as conjured by Hilary Mantel or the New Jersey neighborhoods of Junot Diaz.

A huge part of the pleasure of this trilogy in general and this volume in particular is that, even as we consume the story just to find out what happens to Quentin, we know that we are collaborating in our own versions of its creation, its animation. The reader gets to be a magician, too.

Nancy Klingener is a writer and independent radio producer in Key West.

Read more Books stories from the Miami Herald

  •  
 <span class="cutline_leadin">STONE MATTRESS: </span>Nine Tales. Margaret Atwood. Nan A. Talese. Doubleday. 288 pages. $25.95.

    Stories

    Past looms large in new stories from Margaret Atwood

    In Margaret Atwood’s new collection, the past looms large for aging protagonists, but sympathy and regret abound, too.

  • What are you reading now?

    “I just finished Claire DeWitt and The City of the Dead by Sara Gran, which I love, love, loved. It’s a mystery set in New Orleans shortly after the storm and solved by girl detective, Claire DeWitt, who applies her special method of detection which is pretty much based on yoga and Buddhism combined with the altered mind states of drugs, drink, dreams and growing up in Brooklyn.”

  •  
 <span class="cutline_leadin">WHAT STAYS IN VEGAS:</span> The World of Personal Data — Lifeblood of Big Business C — and the End of Privacy as We Know It. Adam Tanner. PublicAffairs. 316 pages. $27.99.

    Nonfiction

    ‘What Stays in Vegas’ examines data packaging and the end of privacy

    Journalist explains how data packaging makes American companies the biggest threat to privacy.

Miami Herald

Join the
Discussion

The Miami Herald is pleased to provide this opportunity to share information, experiences and observations about what's in the news. Some of the comments may be reprinted elsewhere on the site or in the newspaper. We encourage lively, open debate on the issues of the day, and ask that you refrain from profanity, hate speech, personal comments and remarks that are off point. Thank you for taking the time to offer your thoughts.

The Miami Herald uses Facebook's commenting system. You need to log in with a Facebook account in order to comment. If you have questions about commenting with your Facebook account, click here.

Have a news tip? You can send it anonymously. Click here to send us your tip - or - consider joining the Public Insight Network and become a source for The Miami Herald and el Nuevo Herald.

Hide Comments

This affects comments on all stories.

Cancel OK

  • Marketplace

Today's Circulars

  • Quick Job Search

Enter Keyword(s) Enter City Select a State Select a Category