I had read mixed reviews of the book, which has been billed as Harry Potter for grownups (Scott Smith, author of The Ruins and A Simple Plan summed it up well: Anyone who grew up reading about magical wardrobes and unicorns and talking trees before graduating to Less Than Zero and The Secret History and Bright Lights, Big City will immediately feel right at home with this smart, beautifully written book...") Herald sci fi reviewer John Williford loved it and recommended it without hesitation.
The book is about sulky teenager Quentin Coldwater, who is obsessed with a Narnia-like series of books. Quentin is discontent, but then he's recruited to attend a secret university for magicians, kind of like Hogwarts only with less colorful teachers (Professor Snape, I miss you). Quentin proceeds to meet other budding magicians, learns spells, boozes it up, falls in love. So far, so good. I liked the idea of these college-age Rons and Hermiones, dabbling in drugs and sex and dark magic.
But then they graduate, and, amid endless partying, they learn they can travel to Fillory, the magical land from the books Quentin so loves. Naturally Fillory is not exactly the way he imagined it. It's much more dangerous.
On the surface, that sounds reasonable enough - this is fantasy, after all - but by this time I had taken a violent dislike to Quentin that grew into outright hatred. I fought my way through the Fillory section of the book with much difficulty, and I realized when I got to the end - FINALLY - that I wouldn't be reading any more books about Quentin or his friends (the sequel The Magician King is due out in the summer of 2010).
I don't have to like a character to like a book. Emma Woodhouse is, quite frankly, a pain in the ass. Heathcliff is a sociopath. Even Harry Potter has his obnoxious moments. But Quentin was in a whole new category of obnoxious. And I didn't much care for the book's jump into all-out fantasy; it was better when it straddled the lines between the real world and the magical one.