On one side of the Rift is a technological paradise without famine or want. On the other side is a mystery. Sixteen-year-old Glenn Morgan has lived next to the Rift her entire life and has no idea of what might be on the other side of it. Glenn's only friend, Kevin, insists the fence holds back a world of monsters and witchcraft, but magic isn't for Glenn. She has enough problems with reality: Glenn's mother disappeared when she was six, and soon after, she lost her scientist father to his all-consuming work on the mysterious Project. Glenn buries herself in her studies and dreams about the day she can escape. But when her father's work leads to his arrest, he gives Glenn a simple metal bracelet that will send Glenn and Kevin on the run---with only one place to go. With MAGISTERIUM, Jeff Hirsch brings us the story of a complex, captivating world that will leave readers breathless until the very last page.
Magisterium was one strange book. Seriously, this is probably the second oddest book I've read so far this year, second only to Dust Girl. Though Magisterium definitely does have dystopian elements to its setting, it's really not about that. Instead, this is a novel for fantasy fans all the way. Occasionally, there are even moments where it felt like a fairy tale. Be prepared for all sorts of craziness when you set out on this journey
When the novel opens, we meet Glenn, our heroine, who desperately wants to graduate early and become an astronaut (though it's called something else in their futuristic society. Ever since her mom left, she has struggled with connecting to people and just wants to get out, just like her father escapes into his Project. Her only friends are her cat, Gerard Manley Hopkins, and Kevin Kapoor, who pestered her until she accepted his friendship. Now he seems to want more from their relationship and Glenn is really trying to keep from getting attached to anyone here, thus she's putting on the brakes big time.
Her father tells her the secret of his Project, what he's been working on. He has made a bracelet that will allow them to travel across the Rift, a dead area, behind which everything is supposedly destroyed. He believes that there is a whole different society over there, functioning under different laws than theirs and that her mother has gone back there. She doesn't believe him; in fact, she thinks he's crazy and gets the government brought down on them. She and Kevin escape across the Rift, while Dad sits in jail.
Much to Glenn's chagrin, Dad was right after all. Across the Rift is a whole other government and a completely different world. There people have magic. There are animal-human hybrid things, like Aamon, who helps them survive. This world is the Magisterium, and it is ruled by the tyrant, Magistra.
Kevin was my favorite character, as much as I had one. Of course, being that his name is Kevin, he's Indian, he's slightly annoying, and he's incredibly persistent, I could picture him as only as Kevin G from Mean Girls.
I also liked Hopkins, however, all of the characters underwent major changes once they crossed the Rift and things got crazy, at which point I wasn't so much connected as doing my best to follow along with what was going on. Pretty much the whole time they're in there, I had no clue what was going on...mostly weird things just kept happening.
Pretty much the only thing I could think about for most of the book, though, was HOW MUCH it reminded me of LOTR for the two thirds. I know that LOTR influenced a lot of authors and commonalities can probably be found in just about any fantasy novel. However, I am not drawing this comparison just because. There was a ton of stuff. Seriously, let's sit back and think about this okay?
So we have an unlikely individual to be confronting The Man. She doesn't want to take the bracelet (aka magical bling bling) and go on this journey, but she has to. The first official plan is to take the ring...I mean, bracelet...to the only city in the world where it can be destroyed, so that it can be removed from the world, since every power only wants it for EVIL.
They set out in their little small fellowship, Aamon leading Glenn and Kevin. They make a plan for how to get to the city where the bracelet can be destroyed, but find the easy route blocked. Thus, they have to try the more dangerous way, about which Aamon says this: "'I can protect you from Garen Tom and his men,' he said. 'But there are things in the deeper places that...change you. Things I'm powerless against.'" Does anyone think that sounds remarkably like Gandalf's reluctance to go through the Mines of Moria?
As they're journeying, Glenn and Kevin sneak off one evening and see beautiful, magical fairy-like creatures in a scene that brought to mind Frodo and Sam watching the elves. She tries several times to get Kevin to leave her, until he delivers a little speech that seems eerily reminiscent to Sam's "And I'm coming with you" from the end of The Fellowship of the Ring.
Still not convinced? Well, how about the fact that, when Glenn removes the magic bracelet, she suddenly has magic powers and the descriptions make it feel like she's just entered a brand new world, and the forces in that world can act upon her. Taking the bracelet OFF = putting the ring ON. They also encounter a spider lady and fight wraiths. The final comparison, as if this all wasn't enough, was that the Magistra was described as being very powerful but not yet fully awake, so they were initially going to be facing only her servants directly.
In the end, I thought this was okay, but I found myself getting bored with the constant unexpected plot shifts. There were a lot of secondary characters that would flit in for some back story and then leave again, all without me knowing precisely why I was supposed to care about any of it. Hirsch's writing was decent, but didn't hold any special appeal for me.
Fantasy fans that like a more eclectic read will likely want to look into Magisterium. Also, if you're fascinated by concepts of the distance between things, the line between magic and technology, you would probably be interested in the divide of the Rift, which, frankly, I would REALLY like to know more about. As of this moment, I think this is a standalone, but there's space for more.
Beautiful World Building, but confusion made it fall short
Background: Glenn and her father have been living in the Colloquium for 10 years since her mother disappeared. Her father is a bit of a scientist, probably closer to the insane kind than the insightful. One day her father seems to go off the deep end and starts announcing that Glenn’s mother never really disappeared but went beyond the forbidden border and now they have to get her back with some glow-y crazy bracelet he has invented. While trying to help Glenn accidentally gets the Authority called on herself and her father and has to rush away, she ends up across the border and discovers that everything she has learned was a lie, and what really exists is Magisterium.
Review: This book has a kick-a** creepy cover and the premise seemed so awesome. Sadly I was a little let down. I was very confused throughout reading this, there were so many characters and details that the plot and the important characters seemed to get lost in it all. Magisterium is an amazing place full of the creepy, off-kilter, strange things that can only exist there, but there creepiness is often downplayed and the characters are likable enough but I never really grew attached to any of them, just followed them. I think what makes a great story is the connection you make with the characters and feel as if you are with them throughout their adventure, in Magisterium, I did not feel like that. I think the most I felt for a character was the cat, Hopkins.
I enjoyed the complexity of the world Hirsch created, it was beautiful, but I just felt like a lot was lost in translation.
Interesting concept that was too confusing in execution
This review will contain some mild spoilers, but I will try to keep it as non-spoilery as possible.
Magisterium starts with a sci-fi feel. It takes place in the future, there’s new technology (some of which seems a lot like an iPad a couple generations down the road, but no big deal), and the protagonist, Glenn, is dreaming of leaving her home on Earth with her father to go live on a distant planet. From the synopsis, I wasn’t really expecting a sci-fi vibe, and for a minute, I got really excited that we would perhaps be treated to space travel + magic in this book. That seemed like an amazing combo: everything I never knew I always wanted.
Alas, it didn’t really happen.
A few chapters in, everything in Glenn’s life goes topsy-turvy, and she winds up stranded with her friend Kevin in the Magisterium. What is the Magisterium, you ask? Well. Um. From what I gathered, it’s this cuh-razy Wonderland-esque world that exists outside the borders of the city where Glenn was raised. As best I can tell, everyone just knows where the border is and doesn’t cross it because they’ve been told VERY BAD THINGS exist on the other side. And it’s true, very bad things do exist on the other side, but not the things they thought were there. But no worries, no one questions this by crossing the border. Ever. (And, for the record, the border isn’t a fence or a wall or a force field or anything…nope, as far as I could tell, you can just step across it. But no one does).
Okay. So Glenn and Kevin are in the Magisterium, and there is MAGIC there. Lots of it. And it is weird, mostly because it is unexplained. I mean, I love magic in stories. I do. Almost all of my favorite stories include at least a smidgen of magic. But I need it to make sense. I need it to have a purpose and its own rules and laws that bind it. And the problem with the magic in the Magisterium is that it doesn’t appear to have any rules, nor does it seem to have any purpose for being. There is simply “The Rift,” the event that happened over a hundred years ago that created both the Magisterium and Glenn’s world, Colloquium. And Colloquium seems to have developed “normally,” i.e., humans continued developing technology that allowed them to advance.
But for some reason, this massive (and inexplicable) explosion created an entirely different reality in the Magisterium, where magic runs wild and can do all sorts of everything. There is a passing attempt to kinda-sorta explain The Rift and the Magisterium, but it doesn’t really work.
And I don’t want to ruin the plot by stating specifics, so I’ll just move on.
Once Glenn and Kevin are in the Magisterium, lots of things happen. And here’s another issue I had. Glenn is indisputably the protagonist, but for the vast majority of the book, all the interesting things happen to Kevin. I don’t want to say what happens to him specifically, so let’s just say it’s pretty much everything. Glenn just kind of wanders around, confused, watching Kevin have all sorts of bizarre experiences. Which is why I spent the first 3/4 of the book asking myself, “Why isn’t Kevin the main character?” It made it really hard for me to feel much of anything for Glenn, since she wasn’t the one drawing my interest.
Eventually, it did become clear why Glenn was the main character and not Kevin. And that was a kind of neat (if predictable) twist. But it came too late to really make me invest in Glenn.
Characters aside, the story was hard to follow. Strangely enough, it kept striking me as something that would make a cool TV show, but not a very good novel, because I just don’t think I was picturing the Magisterium and the action correctly. It was so hard to figure out what everything was supposed to look like, and I don’t know about you, but I don’t like to have to really concentrate and focus in order to understand a book. I’d rather just be swept away. I have a feeling that if I didn’t have to work so hard on figuring out the setting and the action, I could have focused more on the characters and plot, and thus enjoyed it more. Plus, the plot was rather episodic anyway. It felt for a long time like Glenn and Kevin were just stumbling from place to place, for no apparent reason, and they kept encountering weird characters and situations as they did. I’m not sure why this was really necessary, but it added to the feeling that each little vignette would probably make a fun TV episode. There were also some inconsistencies sprinkled throughout (a character is mortally wounded in one scene, but a couple stitches later and now he’s running and jumping? Hmmm…), but honestly, I was so busy trying to figure out what was happening and why it was necessary that I let the inconsistencies slide.
Eventually, when Glenn’s big reveal happens and she finally starts doing things, the story picks up. I still found the magic hard to grasp and the action hard to picture, but I was a lot more interested at that point. No, the big “twist” wasn’t really surprising, but it was welcome because it finally put the focus on the main character, where it belonged. But even then, I still had issues with the execution. The magic got even more convoluted. The inconsistencies grew larger. Characters would disappear for chapters at a time, then magically reappear with no explanation about where they went. And the catalyst for most of the conflict started seeming more and more ridiculous. Then the end comes, and it is…a stretch. Both literally and figuratively. It left me wrinkling my brow and asking, “Really?”
Obviously I have a lot to complain about with this book. But I also have some praises. I love – truly and deeply — the idea of mashing up sci-fi and fantasy. The book had so much promise to explore an amazing combination of genres, and while I wish it had explored its potential further, I really applaud Jeff Hirsch for throwing the two together in the first place. Also, despite my issues connecting, I liked that Glenn and Kevin weren’t your average YA protagonists. Glenn was not swept up in the usual torrent of teenage girl feelings, and Kevin was not the typical leading man.
And while the imagery may have been a bit off for me, I still enjoyed the world. I liked the concept of the dual realities, the magic battling with technology. It’s an amazing idea, and I loved being able to explore it.
I don’t know if I’ll keep reading the Magisterium series, but if they ever make it into a TV series, I’ll definitely watch.