“It’s not a rip-off, it’s an homage.”
The second of my BEA haul, this alternately frustrating and compelling fantasy novel aimed at the NPR set is getting a major publicity push, with not just an official website but also multiple fictional ones as well. (The fan art could be more believable — where are the air-brushed animals with women’s boobs? — but the fake university site is quite clever.)
The story concerns a teenage misfit genius who is mysteriously whisked off to magic school. A huge chunk of the first third of the book is so entirely like the Harry Potter novels that I stayed with it only because the high quality writing suggested it had to be going somewhere. The middle third is written, I think, with the intention of subverting much of those boarding-school-wizard expectations, and then the last third, cheerfully spoiled by the back cover so don’t read it, is the most nuanced.
There are some really standout scenes: the guy with the branch, the thing with the geese — you’ll know when you get there. And then a lot of characters sitting around chatting like normal college kids. And in another 100 pages or so, another awesome scene. I didn’t mind hanging around waiting, but it felt like a real wasted opportunity.
(Speaking of which, Grossman, who is slightly older than me, has his supposedly dissolute post-adolescents hosting elaborate dinner parties and sipping fancy after-dinner liqueurs. I know young people are ever-more sophisticated, but those are activities I do for fun now. When I was 22 I drank Midori Sours and ordered buffalo wings by the dozen.)
It’s not totally a success, but I’m glad I read it and I do recommend it. It’s been more than a month now and some scenes continue to stick with me. On sale August 2009.