Urbanist Book Review: Magicians trilogy

Title: Magicians Trilogy

Author: Lev Grossman

Locations of note: Brakebills, Earth (various locales), Fillory, unnamed world

Urbanist Review: Initial impressions suggest that this trilogy should be a world-builder’s fantasy. The story is propelled forward by the successive discoveries of new environments, both fictional and otherwise. In the third book, the characters literally build a world. (Two, technically.) What’s not to like?

And yet, the places in this trilogy fall short of expectations, in much the same way that (I felt) the characters themselves fail. It’s just too damn meta. Grossman is clearly a fantasy aficionado, and his books operate as a sort of homage or response to the towering giants of the genre–most obviously, the Narnia and Harry Potter series, which tie directly to Fillory and Brakebills. A recurring theme is the gap, or disjuncture between the tidiness and clarity of fiction and the experience of “real life”. However, this approach doesn’t sit well with the plot and story that are developing simultaneously. As a result, despite Grossman’s impressive skills on display with regards to plot and description (these books really are excellently written), a sense of ironic detachment pervades all three novels. Neither the places nor characters can ever quite shake the impression that they are just lesser shadows of another story. Description is referential, rather than evocative, or else interrupted by the self-aware musings of characters or narrators. In the end, the allusions and references overpower the potential idiosyncrasies and originality of the worlds they inhabit.