Publisher: BOOM! Studios (Archaia Imprint)
Based on the Novel By: Lev Grossman
Writer: Lilah Sturges
Artwork: Pius Bak
Colours: Dan Jackson
Lettering: Mike Fiorentino
Release Date: 10th July 2019
“Nobody at Hogwarts has to contend with stress diarrhea.”
Set in the world of New York Times best-selling author Lev Grossman’s “Magicians” trilogy, this new BOOM! Studios release retells the story of the first novel through the eyes of young magic user Alice Quinn. Blending and subverting established fantasy elements from the likes of Harry Potter and The Chronicles of Narnia, the trilogy drew no shortage of critical acclaim on its release, and this graphic novel serves as a perfect entry point for new readers, while also providing a fresh perspective for long-time fans.
For readers not familiar with the Magicians trilogy (a demographic I myself belonged to prior to picking this one up), the story here swirls around a group of teenagers and their time spent at Brakebills College for Magical Pedagogy. Featuring the familiar blend of teen angst, relationship drama and coming-of-age complexity, the story initially starts as – without wanting to be too blunt – a fairly by-the-numbers Potter clone. The characters are interesting enough and the dialogue and artwork are solid, but there’s nothing too showy here and nothing that really jumps out at the reader to begin with.
However, as the pages kept turning I found myself becoming drawn deeper and deeper into the story. While the early pages don’t featuring anything too flashy, the believability and relatability of the characters and the sheer scope of the world-building makes for a heady cocktail, and by the time things started heating up (and believe me, they most certainly do heat up), I was well and truly hooked.
Writer Lilah Sturges does a great job of adapting and reshaping Grossman’s source material for the graphic novel format. The structure is strong, and the way the narrative flits back and forth at the whim of Alice’s narration (along with a promise to explain exactly how she knows everything she does in spite of not being present during a lot of the key moments) keeps things from ever feeling bland or repetitive.
Pius Bak also more than holds up his end of the bargain with the visual side of the book, with a rich, expressive style that doesn’t bog itself down with unnecessary detail. His pages slow smoothly and there’s a realism to the character designs that never leaves things feeling too cartoony. Dan Jackson adds some depth with his steady colour work, keeping the colour palette relatively retrained throughout while still giving the key fantastical moments the extra flourish they deserve.
The final quarter of the book is where things really kick into high gear, and the investment we’ve built up in the key characters really pays off as the stakes are raised and the tension is ratcheted all the way up. I’m not going to delve too deeply into the specifics of exactly what goes down, because you’re either already familiar with the source material or a brand new reader, and if you’re the latter then it’s definitely a lot more fun experiencing the twists, turns and reveals for the first time by reading the book yourself (rather than via a review). Suffice to say that the aforementioned subversion of fantasy tropes comes right to the fore, and a lot of plot and character points from early in the volume end up paying massive dividends.
At the end of the day, and considering the fact that I wasn’t previously familiar with the source material at all, The Magicians: Alice’s Story succeeds in a lot of different ways. It confidently adapts Lev Grossman’s source material to the comic book format, it serves as both a welcoming entry point and fresh reinterpretation of the first novel, and – perhaps most importantly – it provides a fun, exciting and thoroughly unpredictable fantasy tale. Well worth a look.