Article after article has been written on Lev Grossman’s artistic genius. Even more articles have been written about his Magicians trilogy: stunning, authentic, deep, fantastic, etc. But what I found the most intriguing about the story is how nothing ever truly works out the way the protagonist thinks it will. Until it does. And then…then it’s fantastic.
Elliot, the protagonist, is not a 100% match for the kind of person I’d get along with when he was at Brakebills (the magical equivalent of high school). He was eccentric, so we had that in common, but he allowed himself to indulge in excesses of alcohol, broke rules (not all the time, mind you), and had unbelievable magical talent. Now, clearly nobody in real life shares that last trait, and while I was an above-average student with solid athletic ability, I wasn’t at Elliot’s level by any stretch.
I think Elliot and I would have been acquaintances. We probably would have said hello to each other in the hallways, but I don’t think we would have spent anytime out of school together. Especially if there was alcohol involved.
And upon graduation, I would have forgotten about Elliot. I would have never run into him at the local Starbucks on breaks. Maybe he’d be referenced in a random Facebook post, but I would have scrolled down without processing it. I guess we’d cross paths at a local bar years later, but not even that would be certain.
So how did Grossman draw me into the world of Elliot, Brakebills and Fillory? He does so not through Elliot, but through a recurring theme: the bigger ticket items in life come with a cost, and this cost will surely be not only higher than we imagine, but irreversibly scarring as well.
Elliot’s plot lines hinge on getting what he wants but sacrificing more than he wants. His heartbreaks are organic and plastic at the same time. His ecstasies are only matched by his unalloyed despairs. Interestingly enough, I don’t even share this with him.
What gives? How can I identify with Elliot? It took until the end of this last book in the series before I realized I even do have something in common. We both exhibit the overwhelming need to make sure we can right our wrongs. Or at the very least, right the biggest wrong in our lives.
I probably should give some narrative exposition since this is tagged a review, but I don’t think it’s needed. If you want a story that will grip and squeeze the innermost dark part of your mind and heart, then pick up this book immediately. Actually, start from the beginning with The Magicians.