I first discovered The Magicians a few years ago, in an old bookstore in Montreal’s Mile End. I’d just taken a job in that city, which seemed like a fun and adventurous thing to do — except that I was still living in Toronto, some 500 km away. I spent a few days there every week, killing my non-working hours wandering the city alone, drinking strong Quebec beer in the city’s great bars, and stumbling into bookshops like this one. Often in that order.
As you can imagine, I had an awful lot of time to read in those days. I’d devour books on the train during the long commute, read in parks at lunch or after work, and continue over candlelight and red wine on restaurant barstools at night. I went through books quickly, and often needed to replenish my stock.
The Magicians didn’t, at first, seem like the kind of thing I’d be into — even under these circumstances. I’m not much for fantasy, or genre writing of any kind. I was sceptical about all the title, about the premise, about all that magic. How was a trilogy about a group of young, horny magicians at a magical school any different than Harry Potter? Its author, the Time magazine critic Lev Grossman, was surely a hack.
But being lazy and slightly drunk, and easily swayed by the recommendation of the girl at the cash, I bought the book anyway. I opened it up that night in front of a burger. By the time the train passed Kingston the next day, I was finished.
To explain the plot of The Magicians, or even the basic premise, really is to mimic a recap of Harry Potter — or The Hobbit, or The Lion, The Witch, and the Wardrobe, or a wide pastiche of other influences you’ve probably already read or dismissed — so I won’t bother getting into it. But Grossman’s writing is much more solid than Rowling’s, and much darker, and much more clever. Somehow, impossibly, the books manage to be unlike anything you’ve ever read.
But never mind reading. Last year, the books were developed into a TV show, which managed to turn their addictive weirdness into something equally bingeable on-screen. The show feels preposterous at first, but you’ll very soon be sucked into the world of Brakebills Academy and its super-hot, superhuman students.
Tonight, the second season of the show premieres on SyFy. This is exciting news for anyone who’s been counting the days since Season 1’s cliffhanger finale. And if you haven’t been watching — or, hell, even reading — you really should. It’s escapism of the highest order, and it’s downright magical.