Tuesday, December 8, 2009


Quentin, a seventeen-year-old prodigy about to graduate from high school and deeply dissatisfied with his life, stumbles onto the grounds of a secret college for magicians. His intelligence and as yet undiscovered talent for magic gain him a place at the exclusive school, but classes are grueling (wizardry is no easy task, as it turns out), school life is difficult to maneuver (sex and alcohol abound), and he is still searching for direction by the time he graduates. A foray into Fillory, the charming fantasy world he read about as a child may give his life some purpose--or it may force him to finally confront reality.

Mostly this is an adult's rumination on the Narnia and Harry Potter series, which is what makes it so fascinating. To call it derivative, as many have done, is to completely miss the point. The school resembles Hogwarts in many ways and Quentin constantly thinks about a series he read as a kid that is obviously a nod to the Narnia books. But Quentin's experiences are much more difficult and sloppy than those of the characters in his beloved Fillory books, and in the end Quentin must come to grips with the fact that life as described in childhood fantasy novels is often easier and more purposeful than real life.

Unfortunately, the plot is episodic to a fault, without even the benefit of successful character development; the attempts to show the dark inner workings of various characters didn't work well, to me. I didn't find myself especially fascinated by or empathetic toward any of the characters, especially glum and numb Quentin. But some of the twists in the story are really marvelous, and the climax was a big surprise. The ending sort of tapered off, without Quentin really coming to a satisfying resolution for his inner problems. However, I would still recommend this book to those who read the Narnia stories as children. The incorporation of Narnia-like Fillory was fascinating enough to carry the whole novel.


fairyhedgehog said...

I really didn't know what to make of this book. I read it to the end, enjoying most of it, but it didn't satisfy me. The ending tapered off is a great way to put it.

The whole Narnia thing was very intriguing but I'm not sure it was quite enough to carry the whole book for me. I really wanted the story to be rounded off in some way that drew it all together instead of gently fizzling out.

Cheryl said...

Yes, it would have been much more satisfying if Quentin had actually come to grips with inexplicable dissatisfaction. I totally agree with you there.

Jane Steen said...

I believe this one's on my reading list. Sometimes novels based on other novels tell us a lot about why we read novels. Thanks for the review!

moonrat said...

So I just finished reading this book, and thought I'd come back and read your review before posting my own. Thanks again for this; you hit the nail on the head about a lot of elements.