Quentin Coldwater is a socially backward, high-achieving Brooklyn teen, who is obsessed with a children’s fantasy series about Fillory (a loosely disguised Narnia). Quentin’s secret dreams come true when he finds himself diverted from his Princeton interview and whisked away to Brakebills Academy, a school of magic in upstate New York. He passes the entrance exam and begins his education as a wizard. The twist on the standard fantasy trope is that Quentin and his friends are fully-realized teenagers, complete with the secrets, failings and “nobody understands me” attitude of normal young adults. Upon graduation, Quentin and his friends are powerful, rich and filled with ennui. They move to New York and embark on an orgy of drugs, drinking, smoking and meaningless parties which is only interrupted by the sudden opportunity for a journey to Fillory.
What the Armchair Critics Thought:
Excellent writing with well developed characters and a fast paced, inventive plot. While regular readers find this to be a mildly diverting story, there is a sharp divide in the opinions of fantasy readers. The pendulum of reactions swings from the highs of gleeful, geeky fandom by those who have been secretly dreaming of such adventures – to the lows of betrayal and outrage by Narnia and Harry Potter readers who hate to see the wonder and gloss stripped from their magic worlds. Quentin is a difficult hero to like. He is no eleven year old Harry Potter or eight year old Lucy Pevensie. We cannot admire his courage, his loyalty, or his easy good humour. He is narcissistic, depressed, weak and cowardly and he doesn’t even admire himself. But what we can do is root for him. We want him to be happy and fulfilled. We want him to do better. We ask ourselves -will I react any differently when my turn comes for Fillory?