I was looking forward to this book. I did not read the first volume, but I heard lots of good things about this one and figured I'd start here. I am very glad I did not bother with the first (because depending on how bad it was and how much I heard about this one I may have ended up wasting enough time to read both). Instead, I am glad that this one is done and can proclaim that I will not read another.
The entire "moral" of the story is that you cannot search for happiness. Happiness is not something that you achieve, it is something that you allow yourself to experience through satisfaction in your work and acceptance of who you are. Yep, I like this moral; read through some of my reviews and it is true that this is one of the truisms of life that I can agree with. BUT that doesn't make this book good...it simply means that Grossman took a good moral and wrote a bad story around it.
First, he is annoyingly plaguristic (yeah probably not a word) in his writing. He does make plenty of overt references to both Harry Potter and Narnia, but the fact that he basically stole the framework from both was terribly annoyinig for me. This is not high school, but college. Otherwise, you can almost directly read Harry as Quentin and Breakbills as Hogwarts..complete with the Penny-Alice-Quentin as Ron-Herminone-Harry trifecta. And yea, the whole Fillory junk is just Narnia..except instead of Aslan the lion, we have Ember the Ram. Really, it was that overtly and annoyingly copied. I could rant with lots of details here, but I just don't feel like spending my energy on it.
Second, the new story itself was not really a story. A few times Grossman points out that "real life" doesn't have a plot and that these characters shouldn't expect to find an adventure (but then they do, but oh yeah, it's simply CS Lewis's story about Earth kids becoming kings and queens). So, he is trying to write a character piece? Really? Must have been, since the whole thing is completely boring and lacks any originality. But then, why don't I care about the characters? Could it be because they are just self-absorbed repetitive creatures? Yep, the most depth we get out of Quentin is the repetition (must have been at least 4 times...leaving Brooklyn, leaving Breakbills, leaving NYC, and after spending time with Alice's ghostly parents) of the moral..remember "happiness can not be achieved without some sense of personal satisfaction and accomplishment."
Finally, there were just too many internal consistencies. Alice frequently chides Quentin for being a coward and shows that she is stronger and braver than he is, but he is always surprised at "his little shy Alice." They have all these quests (going to the Moon, Antartica, South Pole), but then they can also open up a portal and just go there directly. What is that about?
Overall not very interesting or inventive...even as a poolside read I just couldn't wait for it to be over.