a lovely long list of recommendations. After a false start with City of Dark Magic, I moved on to one I've been meaning to read for years--The Magicians, by Lev Grossman. And once I got over the shock of the main character peeing in the shower, I enjoyed it...pretty much.
(this post contains spoilers)
What I liked:
1. The college of magic which the main character, Quentin Coldwater, attends is lovely and fascinating and very nicely described. Quentin's sojourn at the antarctic campus is also good reading.
2. The epic, post-graduation adventure of Quentin and his circle of college chums in the magical land of Fillory was also fascinating. It's a riff on Narnia, asking what it would be like if adults were the ones crossing over to save a fantasy realm--an interesting premise, and rather gripping.
3. The whole beautiful, charming, lovely, and ultimately sinister story of Fillory--there's a series of books about them that were the favorite childhood reading of the main characters. (I especially love the fact that the Fillory books have their own website).
What I didn't like:
1. Quentin is not appealing. I can understand, and even empathize, with many of his feelings, but gee, the dude is self-centered. Many years pass, and few meaningful words are exchanged between the characters.
2. I found very off-putting indeed (though my rational brain admits it was important to the plot) the bit after Quentin graduates and he is doing nothing useful in New York and spending his time drinking too much, and Alice, his girlfriend who had all sorts of plans and potential is stuck there too (beats me why, except for reasons of plot).
What annoyed me:
1. The author assuming I didn't know what the word "vixen" meant. Please.
2. One of the central young student magician characters, Eliot, is gay, and I was not happy with his portrayal. Early in the book we see him in a very off-kilter sexual encounter, and he's in great emotional pain, and trying to douse it with alcohol and forced sophistication. And why did Eliot have to be the one who hooks up with a sex partner the moment they start meeting the Fillorians?
I had the feeling the author was making some sort of point about how open and adult he (the author) was going to be about gay sexuality or something, and though it could be argued that sexuality and the emotional reverberations thereof are a huge part of Eliot's character, and the author was just being true to the character he was creating, but it felt gay unfriendly.
There is another gay character, the author of the Fillory books, who turns out to have been a pedophile. Great (sarcasm font).
(Just as a general observation, there was lots of sex in the book that didn't bother me; it didn't much interest me either, since it was mostly of an "and then they had sex" variety, and even the development of the relationship between Quentin and Alice, which took ages, and was tremendously important, didn't make rainbow sparkles in my mind the way a good lusty fictional romance should).
3. The whole business about Quentin cheating on Alice, and she is justifiably hurt and angry and he is all sad and wants her forgiveness, and then when she sleeps with someone else he gets his little knickers in a twist and is all Angry and How Could You and I had no sympathy for him at all.
What I am not sure about:
I am pretty sure that if I were attacked by a naked demon who happened to have enormous genitals I would indeed notice them, and perhaps even remark on them, as the characters do. But were these enormous genitals really a detail that needed to be there? Possibly, in that it underlines the point that this Fillory adventure isn't kids in fairyland, but I had gathered that already. I'm not sure I wanted this particular image seared into my young, impressionable mind.
Did I like it? Well, I read it with absorption and found it a pleasingly immersive experience, but I don't think I'll ever re-read it. I will, however, add the sequel, The Magician King, to my list.