There are many references to Harry Potter in this story, but make no mistake, Lev Grossman's The Magicians is far from the world of Hogwarts. I think those readers familiar with comfortable genre fiction and J.K Rowling's books may find the tone of this story to be disconcerting - at least at first. I found more similarities to books like Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell, which I devoured and adored when it came out a few years ago. And for some reason, I thought several times of Catcher in the Rye, because of the desultory mood of its adolescent characters as they brood and question the meaning of their lives and futures. You'll never meet a more self absorbed, nihilistic, self-destructive group of young people (outside of southern California)! It made me remember all the crappy parties I went to in college and revile my life at 21 all over again. Do I like the protagonist? Would I want to hang with Quentin or Alice? Do I completely buy the depth of their feelings for one another? Probably not.
Not that these characters don't wind up in an interesting story. Say what you like about these kids, but The Magicians is incredibly readable. I tore through the book in a matter of hours. Part of the draw was not really ever having a sense of where it was going, where the story would take me or where it would end, who would live or who would die. It has no overall architecture, so to speak, and seems to spring quite spontaneously from one chapter to the next. You get the sense that Grossman would get up every morning and go to his computer, completely willing to take things in whatever direction he chose that day.
I'm still not quite sure what to think of the story as a whole, which I think is a good thing, all in all. it's nice to be a little perplexed by a book. I kept wondering if the novel would have come off more or less successfully had Grossman used Narnia instead of Fillory (which is his obvious Narnia knockoff). What do you think?