By Lev Grossman; Read by Mark Bramhall
17 Hours – [UNABRIDGED]
Publisher: Penguin Audio
Themes: / Fantasy / Magic / Wizard School / Meta Fiction / Alternate Worlds / Fictional fictional characters /
It would be too easy to simply compare this book to the Harry Potter series. There are obvious elements that are present in both, specifically the magic school. But Lev tells a story that only uses that as a means to bring the characters together and move onto the main story, which really kicks off once they graduate.
The main character, Quentin Coldwater, is a very bright high school kid who is busy applying to Universities. Despite his academic excellence, Quentin struggles to connect with the real world. He has a fascination with a series of fantasy books about a land called Fillory. In those books he can see a purpose to existence that he can’t find in his own life.
One university, Brakebills Academy, takes an interest in him and gives him an exam. It is during this exam that Quentin discovers that he is one of those few who have a talent for magic. He is enrolled in the school and goes from the smartest kid in his school to about average in his year. He pushes himself to excel and eventually finds that he is being skipped ahead a year. He makes friends and finds love. But his time there is not without upset. Eventually he and his friends graduate and we are not even half-way through the book.
Struggling to decide what to do with their lives, Quentin and his college friends drift through life for a short time. The world of the wizards isn’t challenging to them. This secret culture looks after their own, keeping a low profile and pretty much doing whatever interests them. Lacking direction and guidance Quentin and his friends have too much money and no responsibilities. They party. Drink, drugs and sex. But then they discover something that even their tutors didn’t know about. Fillory, the land from Quentin’s books, is real and they have a way to get there. They gear up and mount a small expedition to find adventure and fill the hole in their lives. They go into this with a tactics and planning of a group of fantasy role-players. They see everything in terms of the stories of Fillory. They expect quests will turn up to tell them what they need to do, and indeed one does.
The parallels between Fillory and Narnia are much stronger than those with the Harry Potter series, and pervades through much more of the novel. In the Fillory novels, a family of children, the Chatwins, from rural England in the early 1900’s keep finding secret paths into Fillory where they have adventures, defeat enemies to the land and return home as if no time has passed. While there isn’t a Lion god, there is Ember and Umber the twin Ram gods, who clean up any remaining mess and sends the Chatwin children back home. The events and characters in these books are real and have a serious impact on Quentin and his friends as they try to figure out what really happened in Fillory. There are hints and clues throughout that a second reading would put into a clearer context after knowing the ending.
The narrator, Mark Bramhall, gives an excellent performance, keeping most of the voices distinct.
Although this is described as a coming of age novel, I would hesitate to recommend it to younger teen readers. There are several strong uses of offensive language, all fitting with the characters and their situation. Definitely not aimed at the same primary market Harry Potter was.
Posted by Paul [W] Campbell