Note: The Magicians trilogy by Lev Grossman is from a list of recommended books about magic by Erin Morgenstern, author of the fabulous The Night Circus. More than half of this first book is about a magic school but this is not Hogwarts: the school is in upper New York state and the students are older (post-high school) so they indulge in young adult activities like drinking and sex, making for complicated relationships. There are two difficulties: learning magical incantations is very hard (wands are for sissies) and there is an existential dilemma – what is the purpose of magic in a modern world? This latter issue is addressed by the young magicians entering a fantasy realm, one described in fiction books and thought to be entirely imaginary; all the magicians have read the books about the magical world of Fillory when they were young children. This is where imaginative adventures occur with violence and a significant body count. So this book offers a very different treatment of magic compared to Harry Potter books, but is equal entertaining.
Book two of the trilogy, the continued adventures of Quentin and colleagues: more travel in a quest to locate five magical keys. Part of this travel is on Earth, using portals that are created precisely with Google Street View! And there are deliciously old-fashioned sea trips in Fillory. Much of the book has metaphysical tones. Where does magic come from? Are there all-powerful secret magicians (aka Gods; I was reminded of the Old Gods in Neil Gaiman’s American Gods)? Finally, there are wonderful character names like Pouncy Silverkitten – what’s not to love!
The final book of the trilogy comes to a satisfying conclusion. More magical quests on Earth and on Fillory, with reappearance of some characters from books one and two. About 12 years have passed since book 1 and the consequences of doing magic and experiencing great magic has changed the magicians, bringing a world-weary maturity. This series is wonderfully imaginative. However, the 3 books need to be read sequentially; none are stand-alone stories.