The Well Read Viking

The Well Read Viking

Thursday, July 31, 2014

The Magicians by Lev Grossman

The Magicians is an interesting blend of books that, while distasteful at times, somehow manages to work. Imagine a book that was a blend of Harry Potter, Narnia and The Catcher in the Rye. I can see you raising your eyebrow at me, but that is truly what this book feels like.

Quentin is a mopey super genius. He has a great life, but all he does in complain about it and how he just isn't happy. He does this the entire book. That is where The Catcher in the Rye comes in. Quentin is just like that prick Holden Caulfield.  All either of them did was complain. I couldn't stand it in Catcher and I didn't much care for it here either. The good news for this book is that it had other things involved that were able to catch my fancy.

Quentin and his friend are both on their way to an interview to enter Princeton. They arrive, but strangely no one answers the door. Curious, they peek their heads inside and look around. They find the corpse of the man who was to interview them. While in a state of shock they head out the door. Holden takes an envelope from the desk that had his name on it without realizing that this act was going to change his entire future. As he opens it he finds a supposed copy of a lost manuscript from a book series that he loved as a child. The book series is basically the Chronicles of Narnia. A paper flies out and he chases it through a garden and he feels the winter chill leave as he steps into a warmer climate. He has found himself at a school that teaches magic.

After a rigorous testing process he finds that he has been accepted to this school and that he is going to leave his old life behind. The idea thrills him and he embarks on a five year journey in his education as a magician. Along the way he finds a group of friends and a girlfriend. They all graduate and everything seems grand, but Quentin's darn sense of ennui and angst just keeps coming back. Eventually through random acts he and his friends find themselves in the world from the book series with which he is obsessed. Turns out the place is real, but not quite how he imagined.

If people are looking to read this book because they think it is just a slightly more adult version of Harry Potter they should just stop. This book is not for them. Yes it does have some similarities. There is a school for magic that trains people from the real world, but other than that and a few snarky mentions of things from Harry Potter (Quidditch and Hermione shrinking her teeth) they are quite different books. Harry Potter embodies a sense of wonder about the mystical world, that while it has some darkness in it, it is much clearer on good vs evil. In Harry Potter it is clear who the heroes are, but in this book there is a lot more gray area.

Overall the writing kept me engaged. I wanted to know what was going to happen next. the author managed to blend the different styles in well. I already mentioned by disdain for Quentin, but I will mention it again. Sometimes he seems like he wants to be sad for sadness sake. Not true depression, but the woe is me nonsense. I will continue to read the series to see what happens, and I hope that he will change at least a little.

Rating: 4 Stars

Thursday, July 17, 2014

Wizard Blues by Steven A. Simpson

After receiving this book from a Goodreads giveaway I did not have very high expectations for this book. A blurb I read of the book compared it to Harry Potter and Lord of the Rings. That is usually a red flag for me since it appears to just be an attempt to attach a book to a much more successful and well written work. I also sighed a little when I saw that the names of the two main characters were going to be Ocean and Sky. It made me think I was accidentally reading the sign in sheet at a hippie commune. With all my reservations and prejudging, this book wasn't half bad.

As this book starts we meet up with twin brothers. As they are growing up they start to display some magical talents. Mostly it is small things, but it leads their parents into searching for a place where they might learn to develop their skills. Unfortunately for the family, tragedy strikes. The two boys make the decision to continue to seek their training and they join up with a wizard. For a few years they roam around together, but the wizard says that the time has come for them to enroll in school to learn all that magic has to offer. They do so and soon enough they are facing graduation and the real world.

 After they leave as full-fledged wizards they are told to report to a leader in their organization, but on their way they run into a dwarf child and they soon change their destination to help the lad and his family. The dwarven village they run to is being terrorized by a shadowy beast in their mines. The two brothers must do what they can to solve this issue before more lives are lost.

All in all I did enjoy this book, but it wasn't what I would call a page turner. As I was reading the book I was engaged, but as soon as I put it down I forgot about it. I wasn't sucked in like I am for some books. A lot of what was in the book felt like your standard fantasy fare, which isn't bad, but I like to have a little uniqueness in what I am reading. There were a few things at the end that were revealed that made me think that the second book might have more to offer in originality than this one did. If you want a short fantasy book that isn't half bad or mentally taxing then you are in the right place.

Rating: 3.5 Stars

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

An Abundance of Katherines by John Green

Before I get started on the review I need to make it clear that I like John Green the man and that it might color my review a little bit. For years, John Green and his brother Hank have had a YouTube channel where they attempt to, and I quote, "decrease world suck". I like what they are trying to do and I also like the fact that the people associated with them are called Nerdfighters. The name just makes me happy. Do try to remember it isn't a group of people who happen to fight nerds, but rather a group of nerds who fight to make the world a better place.

John Green is much better known for his other novels, The Fault in Our Stars and Looking for Alaska. While this novel is also categorized as young adult it is quite different from the other two. In this book we are introduced to a young man named Colin. Like most teenagers he has issues, but unlike most his issues stem from the fact that he was a child prodigy. For him the was is the part that gets to him. He is worried that he is going to be one of those child prodigies that does not move along the path towards being a genius. While he was dating this didn't seem to bother him as much, but since he was recently dumped by his nineteenth girlfriend named Katherine (I haven't had nearly that many girlfriends, let alone ones with the same name) he is back to giving all his focus to his legacy.

Colin's best friend, Hassan, sees that Colin is all broken up so he suggests that what he needs to get his head right is a road trip. With their parents convinced they head out on the open road. While out there they meet up with some interesting characters and they each have a chance to face some of their biggest faults and inner demons.

This book was quite entertaining for me. It could be that the fact that Colin was trying to perfect an equation to explain how long relationships will last was something with which I could relate. I had been working on something similar when I was younger as well. (It was quite accurate, until one couple showed up and ruined it all.) It also could be the fact that I enjoy the way John Green writes. All of his characters are incredibly loquacious and verbose. They will use 12 words when 7 would have sufficed, but I like that for some reason.

If you are looking for a good coming of age story that has some entertaining footnotes and random mathematical formulas (not too many, I promise), you are in the right place. It is a quick read at fewer than 230 pages, but John Green makes good use of them.  

Rating: 4 Stars