Picture the characters from a Brett Easten Ellis novel attending Hogwarts, and you'll have some idea of how Lev Grossman's "The Magicians" rolls.
"The Magicians" tells the story of Quentin Coldwater, an ordinary seventeen-year-old New Yorker who gets the opportunity of a lifetime: to attend a secret, magical college called Brakebills. But if you think you've read this story before, think again. Quentin and his friends are the pampered, bored products of the modern age. They use magic like they use drugs, alcohol, and sex - as another way to try to bring meaning into their empty lives. Even a visit to the mythical country of Fillory (think 'Narnia' only with a ram instead of a lion) isn't able to break through their cynicism and ennui.
The novel is gritty, and the characters are self-absorbed and completely without charm, yet the book has heart. For one thing, it's funny. It pokes fun at Harry Potter, Lord of the Rings, and the Chronicles of Narnia, but in doing so mocks itself as well. The humor is light-hearted enough to not offend die-hard fans of fantasy fiction.
For another, the book asks deep questions about the nature of divinity and the corruptness of humanity. It wonders aloud whether such places as Narnia and Middle Earth could exist as places of harmony, or are human beings (and other sentient creatures) simply too broken to create a world without violence and grief.
On the one hand, this book would speak to anyone who grew up with notions of visiting Aslan or attending Hogwarts. Yet, its ultimate disillusionment with such fantasies may not make it everyone's favorite book.