“I think you’re magicians because you’re unhappy. A magician is strong because he feels pain. He feels the difference between what the world is and what he would make of it. Or what did you think that stuff in your chest was? A magician is strong because he hurts more than others. His wound is his strength.
Most people carry that pain around inside them their whole lives, until they kill the pain by other means, or until it kills them. But you, my friends, you found another way: a way to use the pain. To burn it as fuel, for light and warmth. You have learned to break the world that has tried to break you.”
I’ve read very mixed opinions about this book, and at least partly I think it’s the fault of the marketing that labels this books as “Harry Potter for grown ups.” I would definitely advise going into this book without such expectations, because, even though the author intentionally alludes to and plays with familiar elements from the Harry Potter series and The Chronicles of Narnia, that is where the similarities stop.
The majority of criticism seems to geared towards the main character, Quentin Coldwater, a self-proclaimed genius, who is at the same time a self-absorbed, sarcastic douchebag and a self-conscious and angsty teenager. He is full of doubts and can’t seem to find meaning in his life, and I found that the flaws in his personality made him a realistic and interesting main character. Moreover, at the beginning of the book, he is only 17, which is still that difficult transitional stage in a young person’s life between being a teenager and an adult, and that often comes with a big dose of arrogance.
All his life Quentin has dreamed of escaping from the mundanity of everyday life into the world of his favourite childhood fantasy series – Fillory. One day, he suddenly receives an invitation from the elite Brakebills magic school, a plot point reminiscent of the dream of many Harry Potter fans to receive an acceptance letter from Hogwarts. However, Brakebills is not Hogwarts and it’s not enough to be born as the chosen one. It was refreshing to see the characters struggling to learn magic. In Brakebills magic always comes with a cost and, to become a great magician, students must put a lot of effort into their studies. It was refreshing to read about a magic school, in which the study of magic requires a lot of perseverance, dedication and hard work, instead of just natural talent. Also, in the spare time from their hard studies, these young magicians party like there is no tomorrow.
Comparisons to the Harry Potter series, and my previous experience with the fantasy genre, made me expect that the story will be plot driven and follow the adventures of the group of young magicians in the magic school, however, the book actually focuses more on the feelings and inner turmoil of these characters, who long for the fulfilment of their dreams and a clear goal in life, as well as their disappointment in the reality of adult life.
The book asks some very interesting questions about what would happen if your biggest wish came true? Would that actually make you happy? And how much would you be willing to sacrifice for it?