The Magicians, The Magician King, The Magician’s Land
Lev Grossman writes well. Very well. Keep you turning pages the second time through well. He has an eye for detail, includes description that seems casual but is crucial, does so many things brilliantly. Conversations snap to life, has humor of all kinds, similes are astonishing and he does that again and again. He’s brilliant, and a disciplined imaginer.
Technically brilliant. Morally, not so much. His fiction in a way is in a line with Pullman: responding to C.S. Lewis. His aim is a secular Narnia, but one with all the wonder still. His trilogy ends better than Pullman’s, though it ought to be added lest the comparison mislead, Grossman is not writing for children. I thing his trilogy is more of a success even than The Hunger Games–far better writing, though his plots are more tangled. He has a better ending too because he really wants wonder, and he concedes something to keep it that Suzanne Collins never does. He admits mystery.
In other words, he doesn’t take a hard line secularist radical amputation of anything wondrous, smash it and just have unaccounted ephemera propped on nothing like Stephen Hawking irresponsibly building on a positivist philosophy. He accepts the supernatural. I think this represents an advance. Grossman was influenced by Susanna Clarke, and I think together they move the conversation about magic and fantasy forward. At least they give me a suggestion of something new. She does, decidedly, and he does as well. They make statements about fantastic literature in writing it successfully. From the point of view of someone trying to write fantastic literature, they’re illuminating.
Besides that, it is interesting that C.S. Lewis should require a response. That fact alone, and you can read where Grossman talks about it here http://entertainment.time.com/2013/11/22/why-narnia-still-matters/ , is significant. I think Grossman is engaging the argument better than Pullman. He tries to secularize his magical world by means of a ‘deeper magic’. Just to read the epigraph to the book “Further in and further up” is to understand he’s responding. Of course, you might read it to find out how.
And I think, though I don’t think he would say it, he has gone too far from the secular point of view, conceded too much, and that’s why he succeeds in spite of himself. I don’t say that because I can demonstrate that, but because of the satisfaction with which I ended the trilogy. He kept his covenant as a writer with this reader: I was grateful for the way it ended.
He writes in the modern vernacular, and does that well but I think only that. Be warned. Still, if you’re interested in fantasy, in writing, in what interesting things people are doing with it, weed it and reap.