Summary: "Quentin Coldwater is brillant but miserable. He's a senior in high school, and a certifiable genius, but he's still secretly obsessed with a series of fantasy novels he read as a kid, about the adventures of five children in a magical land called Fillory. Compared to that, anything in his real life just seems gray and colorless.
Everything changes when Quentin finds himself unexpectedly admitted to a very secret, very exclusive college of magic in upstate New York, where he receives a thorough and rigorous education in the practice of modern sorcery. He also discovers all the other things people learn in college: friendship, love, sex, booze, and boredom. But something is still missing. Magic doesn't bring Quentin the happiness and adventure he though it would.
Then, after graduation, he and his friends make a stunning discovery: Fillory is real. "
Review: Many sources called this book the "Harry Potter for grown-ups." Well. I'm a grown- up (most days). And I completely disagree. Grossman uses many fantasy motifs that are familiar to everyone, creating the magical Brakebills School from Harry Potter's Hogwarts, Fillory from C.S. Lewis' Narnia, and even copying the idea that 4 human children are needed to rule as Kings and Queens of this mysterious fantasy land. But Grossman's treatment of this material is different from anything I can remember, and certainly a far cry from what I would have expected from a book catalogued as "fantasy." Grossman in a way pokes fun of himself for doing this. It's seems like he's laughing at the material, maybe he's laughing at the whole genre. If he was trying to write a true fantasy book, the type where the underdog struggles against (often mystical) odds to succeed, and the reader cheers him on all the way to the finish, where we are left happy and satisfied that the [fantasy] world is a better place, then Grossman failed. But I don't think Grossman was trying to write the typical fantasy.
The main character, Quentin, slouched and crawled through the book without managing to be called even a "reluctant" hero. He and most of the other characters were portrayed as selfish and bored. It was the kind of entitled malaise that I have seen all over the northeast. Perhaps Grossman was just trying to make the characters flawed humans, like we all are, but it was hard for me to cheer for such unlikable people. The action wasn't much to keep the story going, either. The author told us in a nice, sequential way how the characters progressed through 4 years of school and a period of post-collegiate drinking and orgy binges... but hardly anything happened. Today Quentin went to class and practiced magic. Tomorrow he will practice magic in complete silence. And the next day he will study some more.... I found myself excited to keep reading actually (I confess I couldn't put it down), but I think it's because I kept waiting for the action to happen. The migrating geese storyline was very fresh and interesting. But then the kids turned into foxes and did what any fox in heat would do. Oh yea, that's right, they're not kids. The characters are supposed to be college-aged, but they are often written like whiny teenagers.
It's almost 2/3 of the way through the book before the characters get to enter this mysterious world of Fillory. When they arrive we get more lovely character development, such as, "Jesus! That was a naiad, people! We just saw a river nymph! How cool is that? How cool are we? Huh? F*in Fillory, people!" And then the boys bump chests.
We quickly learn that this magical land is not such a cool place, after all. The characters (sort-of) fight through the bad talking animals, eventually eliminating the main villain. But it's all pretty gray. Right and wrong is not clearly spelled out. And surprise, surprise, the emo kids are not happy at the end. Turns out Grossman's main message is that you can't escape to a fantasy land to find happiness, and doing so may even be dangerous. Quentin didn't even find happiness back in the normal world, poor kid (er, young adult).
Bottom Line: As long as you are not expecting the traditional fairytale, and enjoy modern morality tales that don't need a happy ending, then this is a good pick. Do not put this on your new year's reading list just because it says "Harry Potter for adults." My rating: C+