Magic and Boarding School and Books, Oh My!

Small but dedicated groups of book buzzers met earlier this month at Tazza d’Oro in Highland Park and at in Beechview to discuss Lev Grossman’s literary fantasy novel, The Magicians.  Some people really, really liked it, and other people really, really didn’t — but that’s what makes for a good discussion!  And at both discussion, we started talking about what books it reminded us of, and what other kinds of books we like.

Library staff and customers gather at Tazza d’Oro for great coffee and great conversation.

Some comparisons are obvious — we’re not the first to see major similarities between this title and the Harry Potter books, and the parallels between The Magicians and the Chronicles of Narnia are even more apparent in the sequel, The Magician King.  Grossman was raised on Narnia, and he talks a lot about it in this interview.  But what else is there?

Well, while we were chatting I mentioned that I knew this book was for me because it fits into one of my favorite sub-sub-genres: magical school stories.  And people there asked me what else there was.  And…I drew a complete and utter blank.  How embarassing!  But I promised that I’d pull together a list of some favorites and put it on the blog…and here it is!

Note:  this are NOT true read-alikes for The Magicians.  These are just books that I personally like that combine school stories with fantasy elements.  Your mileage may vary.

Mercedes Lackey goes at the top of this list.  Not all of her books are magical school stories, but many of them are.  A couple to get you started:

Legacies: Spirit White is an orphan, her entire family killed in a devastating accident.  As soon as Spirit is released from the hospital, she’s whisked away to a boarding school unlike any she’s ever heard of.  There she learns that she’s a “legacy” — her parents both attended the school as well.  And apparently the school does more than just teach English and math: it teaches magic.

Foundation: In Book One of the Collegium Chronicles, we meet Mags.  A neglected and abused child slave in a gem mine, Mags is soon rescued by a Companion who carries him into Valdemar, and straight up to the Collegium to be trained to use his heraldic powers.



Tamora Pierce is another of my personal favorites who has several series that might fit the bill.  Although her characters don’t go to school to learn their magic, magic plays a very large part in their life at school.  Alanna’s stories, beginning with Alanna: The First Adventure are the first of the Tortall tales.


Not enough for you? Okay, there’s more!

Bray, Libba.  A Great and Terrible Beauty.

It’s 1895, and after the suicide of her mother, 16-year-old Gemma Doyle is shipped off from the life she knows in India to Spence, a proper boarding school in England. Lonely, guilt-ridden, and prone to visions of the future that have an uncomfortable habit of coming true, Gemma’s reception there is a chilly one. To make things worse, she’s been followed by a mysterious young Indian man, a man sent to watch her. But why? What is her destiny? And what will her entanglement with Spence’s most powerful girls-and their foray into the spiritual world-lead to?

Le Guin, Ursula K. A Wizard of Earthsea.

When Sparrowhawk, a young student at the School for Wizards, becomes overanxious and tries his dangerous powers too soon, he unleashes a terrible evil throughout the land.


Putney, Mary Jo. Dark Mirror.

Lady Victoria Mansfield, youngest daughter of the earl and countess of Fairmount, is destined for a charmed life. Soon she will be presented during the London season, where she can choose a mate worthy of her status. Yet Tory has a shameful secret – a secret so powerful that, if exposed, it could strip her of her position and disgrace her family forever. Tory’s blood is tainted . . . by magic. When a shocking accident forces Tory to demonstrate her despised skill, the secret she’s fought so hard to hide is revealed for all to see. She is immediately exiled to Lackland Abbey, a reform school for young men and women in her position. There she will learn to suppress her deplorable talents and maybe, if she’s one of the lucky ones, be able to return to society. But Tory’s life is about to change forever.

Sabin, E. Rose. A School for Sorcery.

Nothing could have been more unexpected – or exciting – than the letter that arrives in the mail informing Tria Tesserel that she has been accepted at the prestigious Lesley Simonton School for the Magically Gifted. Tria has known since she was a child that she had special gifts. Now she will be able to master her craft among peers as powerful as she. But Tria is crestfallen to discover the school is…well…a bit less grand than advertised. The shock of her dismal, tumbledown surroundings, however, is nothing compared to the surprise that awaits her: her roommate, Lina Mueller.


There are more…lots, lots more…as well as another fantastic sub-sub-genre: books about schools that teach teenagers how to be SPIES.  But that’s another list, for another day.