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Magisterium [Paperback]

Jeff Hirsch

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Amazon.com: 3.5 out of 5 stars  38 reviews
5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Great concept that didn't quite deliver 10 Oct 2012
By The Housework Can Wait - Published on Amazon.com
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.
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Young readers can't stop reading! 7 Jan 2014
By Miles - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Kindle Edition|Verified Purchase
I love the way Jeff Hirsch sucks you into the book with so much detail and thought, into a book, that you don't see everyday.
5 of 7 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Quick, Fun and Engaging Read 27 Sep 2012
By Melissa's Eclectic Bookshelf - Published on Amazon.com
Magisterium was a quick fun and engaging read. The characters are well developed, the plot - though a tad confusing - was still incredibly captivating and I just couldn't put this one down until I'd finished it.

I loved the character of Glenn...she was completely believable...fearful yet brave, immature at times yet able to step up to the plate when needed...and she grows tremendously as the book progresses. I didn't necessarily connect with her...but I liked her enough that it didn't matter. Kevin, the trust sidekick definitely adds to the story...but for me Aamon stole the show...I don't want to say too much about him as it might give too much away, but he was my favorite character... (Any chance there might be a spin-off featuring him??)

The plot was fast moving and completely interesting. I needed to keep reading because I wanted to understand what had happened, where Glenn's mom had really gone, and how all of this could ever be resolved. Jeff Hirsch's writing style is descriptive and evocative without bogging the reader down which adds tremendously to the experience.

I still have some questions about the logistics of it all and how well the conclusion really works...but maybe it's a good thing that I'm left still thinking about this one long after I've finished reading it!

NOTE: Complimentary copy received in exchange for an honest review
3.0 out of 5 stars Three Stars 12 July 2014
By Amber - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Kindle Edition
Decent idea for a story, but lacking a lot of substance.
2.0 out of 5 stars Review from Esther's Ever After 16 Jun 2014
By Brenna - Published on Amazon.com
Magisterium is a portal fantasy book, which if done well usually ends up being REALLY GOOD. I was especially interested in this one because there’s a fantasy world on one side, and more of a dystopian world on the other which I think is a fascinating and fantastic blend of genres.

Unfortunately, I found Magisterium largely lacking in regards to both characters and its world. I had hoped for more, but found myself struggling with it for the most part as it didn’t deliver in either area to my liking.

Reason to Read:

1. Two richly complex worlds – one dystopian, one fantasy:

I could marvel at the creativity Jeff Hirsch exemplified here for hours. I was astounded at the uniqueness of the setting his book was set in. It is totally unlike anything I have ever read, with people with special abilities, creatures that blend the lines between animal and human, and some so beautiful yet twisted into something dark. I’d love to explore the Magisterium all on its own. We don’t get much of a glance at Glenn’s home, but we experience enough of it to recognize it as a fairly dark dystopian world.

However, the main problems for me were that I didn’t get to experience enough of the world building as I would like to better understand the story and its circumstances and that the characters were not developed or likable enough for me to be invested in their story. Glenn was too cold and distant, which I can understand given her past, but a story told from the first person narrative should give me more of a glimpse at their vulnerability and I’d like to see them break through it. Perhaps that’s a personal preference of mine, but I didn’t enjoy Glenn for that reason. Likewise I felt Kevin’s sudden change in demeanor to be completely unlike how he had come across earlier on in the book. And he only became more distant as the story moved, again leaving me with very little to root for.

I need to care about the characters to care about the setting and therefore the story. I didn’t care about anything that much, and as a result I felt completely disconnected from the book. Which is unfortunate because I was extremely curious about the world it featured.

Review copy received from Scholastic Canada; no other compensation was received.
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