RaveThe A.V. Club...marvelous ... Grossman’s triumph is that he treats these magical worlds of childhood seriously ... Plenty of fantasies have traded on the ground broken by J.K. Rowling, C.S. Lewis, and Tolkien, but The Magicians is one of the few to really ponder the psychology of a talking bear ... What makes the book so terrific is Grossman’s large, varied cast of characters ... Magicians is episodic by nature, which may throw some readers off. But Grossman creates a spine that gives it life by depicting its protagonist’s attempts to resist depression.
RaveThe A.V. Club[Morrison\'s] latest, Home, is her shortest yet, not even cracking 150 pages, but it’s one of her best ... Morrison assembles all...via an ending that packs an emotional wallop, but even if she hadn’t, the beauty of the individual images along the way would have marked this as a special book ... Morrison’s eerie symbols—a ghostlike man in a zoot suit, a watch without hands—have just the right feel of a nightmare that’s become real, and the book’s sparseness keeps her from dwelling on them to the point where they would become too familiar. It’s the same way with the descriptions of the story’s natural settings, which are effectively otherworldly. This gives the book’s closing chapters—which finally return to Frank and reveal the wartime secret that’s causing his mind to fragment—a wonderful feeling of healing.
PositiveThe AV ClubThe sequel, The Magician King, is a late-20s/early-30s kind of novel. Quentin Coldwater, the wizard who traveled to a mythical land to be its king in the first book, has gotten past most of his misery and settled into bored complacency, wondering whether hanging out in a castle and getting drunk is really all there is to rulership ...is better in almost every way, feels as if it might be even looser in the early going, with plenty of opportunities to worry whether Grossman can pull his narrative together. But once he reaches his devastating climax, neatly knitting together story threads readers won’t have even realized were major plot points, the novel reaches a level of poignancy the first could only hope to attain ...is clearly the middle book in a trilogy, but it’s that rare creature that bridges the gap between tales and still stands on its own.
PositiveThe AV ClubThe book is oddly, ponderously structured, flitting through time in decidedly bizarre ways and putting so much pressure on the upcoming final book in this trilogy to make the story tie together elegantly that Cronin has essentially left himself no room to stick the landing. Yet the book is compulsively readable. And while it struggles in some places where The Passage soared, that’s seems to be because Cronin took some of the more pervasive criticisms of the earlier book to heart. The Passage was an odd hybrid of character-driven and plot-driven fiction; the second tips more toward the latter, but Cronin has become a much better writer of this kind of story. The plot is always chugging forward, and while the overall contours are mostly predictable (as they were in The Passage), the specific moments and events driving the narrative aren’t.
PositiveThe A.V. ClubThe Passage examines what happens when a more traditionally literary novelist is loosed in Stephen King territory. The book is one of the best-written examples of the genre, but it’s weirdly paced … This is one of the better instances of someone taking the time to do popcorn fiction right in recent memory, and every time the book threatens to sag under the weight of Cronin’s more literary conceits, he introduces interesting insights into how the people in the far future survive in a world ravaged by vampires of the monstrous, non-sexy variety, or produces an action sequence involving those vampires loping after a runaway train with humanity’s last, best hope for survival on board. The Passage is paced oddly, but not poorly. Cronin never does the expected, but that becomes a virtue as the book unleashes beautiful payoffs in its latter moments.
PositiveA.V. ClubRussell so skillfully drops readers into Ava’s mindset that she makes Ava’s journey—purportedly to the Underworld to save her sister from marrying a ghost groom—seem shockingly plausible, even as she maintains a hint of dread-soaked doubt about Ava’s guide’s true intentions throughout … The parallels between Kiwi’s manmade Underworld and Ava’s shadowy natural one are striking, and Russell’s vision of Kiwi as the one person capable of holding the family together reaches an unexpected catharsis at Swamplandia!’s end, one that should feel like cheating, but becomes intensely moving … Russell’s greatest skill may be at building a world that’s just a few degrees off of our own, a place where everything is just strange enough that the membrane between life and death seems permeable, and a theme park based around the idea of visiting hell seems downright reasonable.