Tuesday, March 29, 2016

The Magicians book trilogy, by Lev Grossman

Trilogy boxed set I will be reviewing all three books in The Magicians trilogy, by Lev Grossman, as they are one complete story with a beginning and an end, as well as an overarching moral. My review of the first book only, from the perspective of someone who enjoys the (very different!!) TV show, stands.

To understand The Magicians you need to understand who Lev Grossman is: a book critic for Time magazine. As such, he must have had a very strange experience trying to write after probably demolishing a lot of other writers for their lack of skill or overuse of tropes. Therefore some sort of alarm bells must sound when he undertakes to writing a "trilogy of fantasy books", a concept that is a meta-trope in itself. I believe he attempted to break the mould of the genre by using flawed every day characters on a journey that is less heroic as closer to real life: random things happening to you, bad things which you can't avoid, defeat or change, even if you try, which sometimes you don't, because you are scared or bored or selfish. At the end of said journey you are altered, but is it a better you, or just an old damaged version of the dreamer kid you started out as?

For this belief alone, I say that the books were decent because they achieved their purpose. The topics approached are more adult, the characters different from the plethora of fantasy heroes, the elements that seem to randomly appear get resolved somewhere in the far future rather than in the confined timeframe of an "episode". I loved the concept and therefore I liked the books.

However, that doesn't mean everything is rosy in Fillory. The characters are barely built up, the reader starves for some understanding of why people do the things they do or even think or feel in a certain way. Important influences such as home, childhood, parents, siblings, good friends are being ignored and abandoned, while the action of the people in the books are more often described than explained. Satirical references to well known works in the fantasy and science fiction genres pepper the books, but those stories at least attempted some consistency, while The Magicians, especially the Fillory part, feels like an LSD trip of an autistic dork.

The worst sin the books commit, and that is in direct conflict with what I think their goal was, is to make the characters almost impossible to empathize with. All of them move through the story like pieces on a board, almost indifferent to their surroundings and the people that accompany them and mostly annoyed. Whatever deep feelings they do have come out as quirky and obsessive, rather than real. It was with great dissatisfaction that I realized that the character I most identified with and believed real was The Beast, which is a terrible villain for most of the first half of the story. People died, were hurt, tortured and violated, resurrected and I couldn't care less. Mythological monsters and weird random creations were epically battling at the end of the world, and I was just bored, waiting for something interesting to happen.

Bottom line: good idea, bad implementation. Interesting to read, but hardly something that I would recommend as good writing.