There have been nights when I have stayed up late wondering, pondering, trying to fathom a world where wizards are in fact among us, Hogwarts is in upstate New York, and Harry Potter is an emo alcoholic from Brooklyn who spends way too much time reading Narnia-knock offs. Oh, the sleepless nights; oh, the endless days! But, lo, author Lev Grossman has taken up the torch and set pen to paper with this very idea, making my life that much easier.
The Magicians doesn't claim to stray from the beaten path (forged by seven Harry Potter books, lest we forget), but it has discovered a new way of walking it. Like Rowling's world, this novel gives us a loner main character, a school of magic, and plucky students who stretch their skills in the name of knowledge. They go on wonderous adventures, eventually facing the evil baddy at the end. But J. K. kept her characters on a strict diet of butterbeer and wacky hijinks, whereas Grossman's characters sloshed, hammered and pissed about 90% of the time. When they aren't off their face, they are desperately trying to make a name for themselves in a school full of backstabbing geniuses.
Perhaps the most startling difference between the two works is how disaffected the kids are after they graduate. Rowling tied up all of her loose ends in a sickeningly neat package; Grossman sets his kids in an overwhelming freedom after a very rigid boarding school experience. In a mish-mash of drinking, sex, and unemployment, these kids start tearing themselves, and each other, apart. Judging by the reactions to freedom that I saw in college, I have to believe that all of this behavior is very realistic. It's satisfying to see that even with all the magic in the world, we all are capable of the same self-distructive actions.
I truly do recommend this book, both if you've read the Harry Potter series and if it never piqued your interest. It is a mature, honest portrayal of not always likeable people in extraodinary circumstances.