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Review: Harry Potter meets Narnia in Lev Grossman's mature novel, 'The Magician King'

Lev Grossman is a nerd.

He wants you to believe that it's cool to read fantasy fiction. As Time magazine's book critic, Grossman brings a nerd's depth of arcane knowledge and obsessive confidence to this ambition. He draws on some of the tropes and conceits of the classics of the genre, from The Chronicles of Narnia to the Harry Potter saga, melding them into a modern psychological novel to create something entirely new.

The first volume in this effort, The Magicians, appeared in 2009, and this summer brings us The Magician King, which ends on an inkling for a third book. Perhaps an entire Chronicles of the Magicians is forthcoming.

The Magicians is about a young boy named Quentin Coldwater, who enrolls at Brakebills College, a secret school for magicians. With his friends, Quentin travels to Fillory, a Narnia-like kingdom that they all had known about through a series of children's books.

The Magician King picks up two years later. Quentin has joined his friends to become a quartet of kings and queens enjoying a peaceful life of privilege, presiding over their lands, people and magical creatures, when a sudden misfortune occurs that sets the plot in motion.

A spirit of disenchantment pervades this fantasy. The kings and queens of Fillory are polymaths, self-taught geniuses capable of incorporating dozens of foreign languages into their spells. They possess the secrets of magic and live in a storybook forest with talking sloths and Seeing Hares. They have been through a series of adventures that would sober any soul (Quentin's hair has gone snow white), and yet, they remain petty, selfish and profane.

Quentin is no Harry Potter. The other humans in Fillory are not the Pevensie children. This isn't a book for the kids. It's not your father's Narnia or your older sister's Hogwarts. Something sadder and more sinister has entered this fantasy: the modern world.

The Magician King

By Lev Grossman

Viking, 400 pages, $26.95

Review: Harry Potter meets Narnia in Lev Grossman's mature novel, 'The Magician King' 08/27/11 [Last modified: Saturday, August 27, 2011 4:30am]
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