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Posts Tagged ‘magic’

Like the first two books in this series, The Magician’s Land had me hooked from page one. Quentin Coldwater, misunderstood misfit magician king, shows up at a bookstore in a strip mall in New Jersey on a rainy March night, because he received a letter inviting him to do so. From then on it’s  a – ahem – spell-binding ride as readers learn what happened to Quentin since the ram god Ember kicked him out of Fillory, and what he’ll do next. Will he recover from the disgraces he’s suffered in Fillory and on Earth? What secret does Plum, a former Brakebills student, have that might help her help Quentin? Can Quentin save Alice from spending the rest of eternity as a niffin? What are Eliot, Josh, Poppy, and Julia doing back in Fillory and why are things so strange there? What really happened to the Chatwin children, whose adventures in Fillory are memorialized in beloved story books?  Was there a dark side to the books’ author, Christopher Plover? Is there, indeed, a dark side to Fillory?

If you’re thinking you don’t like fantasy so this isn’t your cup of tea, think again. Grossman’s subject isn’t magic, or even purely good versus evil, although that is certainly important in his books. His subject is really humanity, in all its rich variety. And love. And truth. And growing up. And becoming who you’re meant to be. Everything that makes great fiction stick, in a fun, smart, thought-provoking, and yes, fantastic wrapping. I told friends over the weekend that The Magicians trilogy is a cross between Harry Potter and the Chronicles of Narnia, but with sex and drugs.

If you’re looking for stories to get lost in this winter, I highly recommend these well written, entertaining, and soulful books. Give me The Magicians over any “problem” novel or confessional memoir, any day. Grossman packs as much truth and love and pain and heartfelt conflict into his stories, with none of the guilt, over-sharing, or voyeurism. Plus, he writes about wicked cool magic. In a series that is very contemporary, which manages to reference traditional fantasy in a very charming way. The jacket flap says this is the series’ conclusion, but I fervently hope Grossman changes his mind about that.

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Turns out I have had a bit of time for reading, so here’s my take on two quick reads: The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry by Rachel Joyce and The Last Dragonslayer by Jasper Fforde.

Both of these books met my reading needs this week: they’re easy, entertaining books I could read between cooking, hanging out with my family, and catching up with friends and family by phone. That said, both were less appealing than the hype I’d heard.

I think The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry would have been a good novella, or even a long short story. At 336 pages, it plodded at times and there were too many passages that were similar to something I’d read a few pages earlier. If it hadn’t been a quick read, I may have put it down.

That said, I liked the story, which is about a recently retired brewery salesman in southwestern England who gets a letter from an old friend and colleague, Queenie, who is in hospice. The letter triggers all sorts of memories and Harold writes back. On his way to post the letter, an unlikely encounter leads to an even unlikelier decision: Harold will walk all the way to where his friend is, in northeast England. The audacity of this plot twist is enough to make it work.

Harold has experienced a psychological shock and it worked for me that he would do something so unusual and even a little nutty. He’s had enough of regrets and pain. He’s going to do something worthwhile.

As the rest of the book unfolds, I liked the way his wife, Maureen, begins to face the ways she and Harold have grown apart. I liked the revelations about their marriage, their only son, and the backstory about Queenie. I enjoyed how their neighbor, Rex, helps Maureen make her way back to Harold emotionally.

And the stages of Harold’s pilgrimage made sense as well, his doubts and low points, a few helpful people he meets, some skeptics, and the inevitable publicity and people trying to cash in.  I just felt the whole thing went on too long and could have been done more effectively in a shorter, tighter book.

I love Jasper Fforde. I’m a big fan of the Thursday Next books (especially the early ones) and Shades of Grey (no, not Fifty, just Shades of Grey), his Nursery Crime books. The Last Dragonslayer is a YA book, and it’s not as complex as some of Fforde’s other work, which is a shame. It’s still fairly imaginative in the trademark Fforde way — he is masterful at making magic seem a normal part of the familiar world. And he nails human nature in very clever, very funny ways in all of his books.

But for some reason this book didn’t really wow me. The villains seemed a little predictable, or at least a little too much like the villains in Thursday Next books. A promising character, Tiger Prawns, never really gets to shine. Jennifer Strange, the heroine, was uneven. The finale seemed a bit rushed. Again, the story was good, but the execution just didn’t do it for me.

So in both cases, I didn’t hate the book nor did I love it. Am I too full of turkey to have properly appreciated these books? Is it autumn ennui? I’m not sure.

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