So! A normal boy is suddenly invited to a hidden school of magic to learn to become a magician. Right? Except that Quentin is less a wide-eyed and hard-done-by pre-teen and more a surly and disillusioned mid-teen. So he goes to school and learns to do some magic and it is Really Hard but Very Rewarding and then he and his school buddies all graduate and, magic notwithstanding, end up like a hefty portion of college graduates do, by which I mean drunk and disorderly and directionless. And then they all go on a quest and then some Bad Shit happens and it is sad but you will not want to throw yourself off a bridge. I am not recommending some White-Oleander-style bleakitude to you here.
And there is literally no getting around the HP connections and Grossman knows it, openly making jokes about quidditch and thestrals, but he also nods to The Mystery of Edwin Drood and Infinite Jest and, though he’d probably hate to admit it, he’s clearly read Narnia and I think he liked it. The dude reads, I think is what I’m trying to tell you. And somewhere along the way this book stops being about 20-something wastrels and becomes about stories and books, and about how books are not life because life is sloppy and complicated and books are neat, but they contain within them some basic kernel of life and this is getting far to meta for my liking but you know what I mean.
Also it is absurdly readable. There are books that are great stories but a SLOG to read (see: all the Jason Bourne books) and then books where the prose is sort of invisible and you forget that you’re reading and it becomes like a mind-movie and then books where the very reading itself is a delight and you go back and re-read bits you just read solely for the fun of it, for the way the words are arranged. It is like eating both because you are hungry and because the food is so good.
Doooo it, my friends. It is delightful and messy and winning.