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The Magicians trilogy by Lev Grossman is one of the most polarizing works of fiction I've ever read.

Negative opinions, of which there are many, are loud and vociferous in their denunciation. Lots of female readers take issue with main character and antihero Quentin Coldwater, who admittedly takes his sweet time learning how to treat women. Others can't stomach the whiny-rich-kid vibe the books put off, unable to muster empathy for entitled characters who have everything yet still manage to be filled with ennui. And many readers who show up because they've heard the book called “Harry Potter for grown-ups” walk away embittered and disappointed when Quentin and friends fail to deliver the same deep sense of rightness and completion that Harry, Hermione, and Ron offer.

Despite how it's marketed, Harry Potter this ain't. Hedwig, we're not at Hogwarts anymore.

Quentin and the other students he meets at Brakebills, the secret invitation-only college for the best and brightest magicians, inhabit a much darker world, where right doesn't always win and heroes don't always come out on top. It's depressing, maybe, and certainly doesn't provide the usual escapism of fantasy novels, but it worked for me, maybe because it felt so honest.

Quentin is always, always looking for meaning, and only fleetingly finding it. He's often adrift, unsure what his next move should be. None of the three books takes the predictable form of the plot diagram I used to teach my beleaguered freshmen—there's no slow rise to a big, cymbal-crashing climax, rarely the satisfaction of a tidy resolution.

While I recognize that this would frustrate some readers, for me it resonated deeply. Sometimes you don't get to dash in and be the hero. Sometimes you make a terrible mess of things and they can't be fixed. Sometimes you don't get that thing you want more than any other thing. But you still have to find a way to keep living.

If you've ever been that gifted kid who tends toward depression, if you've ever wondered if being smarter than most of your peers actually prevents you from having the same happiness they seem so blithely capable of, you're probably sitting right smack in the middle of the target audience for this trilogy.