Review: This is one of those books that had me all over the place. In the first 16 pages, I was thinking – this book is AMAZING! Best book I’ll read this year, I just know it! There was something about Quentin that I associated with at a very visceral level. In the first 16 pages.
Then it seemed like things changed really quickly, and these relationships that I’d only just been introduced to, but which I was already wholly invested in, turned out to be relatively meaningless to the rest of the story (well, one of them pops back up twice in the story, and I suspect Julia is going to turn out to be a pivotal player, just not in this particular installment of the series). Perhaps this sudden shift was intended. After all, Quentin is unexpectedly pulled from his own world into another, fully removed from everything he knows, and inserted into a complete unknown. Not so dissimilar from my reading experience at that point. Still, it was rather jarring and tamped down some of the thrill I initially felt.
The middle third of the book was all world-building, character developing, relationship-building stuff, and it certainly served its purpose, but it wasn’t especially exciting. Interesting, but not intriguing. Still, I had this feeling that I had to finish the book, that if I gave it a fair shake, I’d be interested enough to want to pick up the sequel somewhere down the line.
Towards the end of the book, another big shift. Up down and all around and never quite sure where we were going. Certainly didn’t expect where we ended up, but it was worth it. Or at least, I suspect that when I eventually finish the trilogy, I’ll think it was.
As for the story itself, it is clear who Grossman’s influences are. Lots of Chronicles of Narnia, a little bit of Lord of the Rings, maybe a dash of Harry Potter and Alice in Wonderland. We’ve got a super-smart, semi-depressed nerdy teenager who loves a series of books about a magical place called Fillory, where a group of siblings occasionally get called to help fight wars and sit as Kings and Queens (of which there are two of each). He gets whisked away to a magic school, that mundanes are completely unaware of, where he spends five years studying magic with a group of other kids very much like himself. He makes friends with a ragtag group, each with their own issues. There is a magical chess-like game in which they compete in tournaments with other magic schools around the globe. Monsters, centaurs, trees with clocks, and quests. A little sex, a lot of alcohol. Battles with magical creatures. Lots of potential.
And I did enjoy Grossman’s writing style. Clearly a very intelligent guy with an impressive vocabulary and a great knack for description, but a very accessible read.
Not a book that would go into my reread pile, but I’m curious enough about where this book left off to eventually pick up the next one.