Stephen's Reviews > The Magicians

The Magicians by Lev Grossman
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Mar 19, 2011

it was amazing
bookshelves: ebooks, audiobook, darker-than-you-think, fantasy, magic-schools, dark-and-gritty, magical-realism
Read from December 27 to 30, 2010 — I own a copy

5.0 stars. I ABSOLUTELY LOVED THIS BOOK!!!! I know that not everyone agrees with this sentiment for this book, but I was greatly impressed by it. From the very beginning of this story, I got the distinct feeling that Grossman was going to be taking "the less travelled path" in his fantasy novel. While I have seen a lot of comparisons to other stories (some of which are quite intentional by the author) this book is certainly ITS OWN BOOK.

The novel is really two very different and distinct stories that I thought worked together very well. The first half to two-thirds of the book is the story of Quentin Coldwater, a brilliant, angst-ridden, self-involved high school senior. Or, put another way, a pretty normal teenager that happens to be intellectually gifted. While Quentin is on his way to be interviewed for acceptance at Princeton, he is (through a series of circumstances I won't spoil) given the opportunity to enroll in a secret university that teaches magic. You can tell from that description how the Harry Potter comparisons come up. However, this "magic" school and the students that attend there are portrayed (quite effectively in my opinion) as the kind of personalities you would expect to find at a college campus for gifted teenagers. Common threads running through the group based on some shared intellectual capabilities, but otherwise a very eclectic group from a variety of backgrounds and all dealing with their own very real issues. In addition, the teaching of magic is shown to be a extremely difficult and an often tedious endeavor. I thought this aspect of the book was superbly done and made for compelling reading.

One other interesting (to me at least) aspect of Quentin that I think bears mentioning is that he is a HUGE FANTASY FANBOY and so the discovery that magic is real makes him believe that all of his dreams are going to come true and that he is going to be able to live out the dream of being a part of a real life fantasy adventure. I can imagine their are a number of us that could relate to that. However, reality, even one with magic, is never as easy or as fun as Quentin's books make them out and so he finds himself disappointed and disillusioned a lot. In fact, his extensive knowledge of other fantasy worlds actually makes the disappointment more acute.

Frankly, I don't see how it could be any other way and that this relationship to fiction and reality is one of the central themes that Grossman was exploring in this novel. Thus, I found one of the book's central messages to be that part of growing up is reconciling your childhood dreams with the realities of everyday life, AND STILL FINDING A WAY TO BE HAPPY!!! Some people found this to be a sad or depressing message, but I didn't find it that way at all. I think we all see the world differently now then we did when we were kids and that doesn't mean we are less happy.

Anyway, Quentin's favorite fantasy series is about a land called Fillory which very intentionally resembles Narnia complete with siblings going through furniture to a strange land ruled by giant, god-like animals (a Ram named Ember rather than a lion named Aslan). This is important because Fillory plays a central role in the last part of the novel which I will not go into so as to avoid spoilers. I will just say that the last third of the novel becomes a fairly typical fantasy adventure in structure, but whose execution is in keeping with the tone and style of the rest of the story. In other words, Fillory is NOT YOUR PARENTS NARNIA. As with the first two thirds of the book, I found this to be well written and compelling.

Overall, I can not recommend this book highly enough. I thought the writing was superb, the characters were three dimensional and very well developed and the world-building was amazing, especially in regards to how the fantastic was made to seem so real. HIGHEST POSSIBLE RECOMMENDATION!!!
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Comments (showing 1-19 of 19) (19 new)

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message 1: by J.M. (new)

J.M. Very interested in what you think of this one. I've picked it up twice at the store, but still haven't made the purchase. I think I'm afraid it'll be too "in vogue" or something, not sure.

Stephen I am a third of the way through it and I am REALLY liking it so far. I have seen a lot of "ho hum" or even poor reviews of this one so I was reluctant to start it. At the moment, I am very glad that I did.

Cassy One of the book's central messages is that part of growing up is reconciling your childhood dreams with the realities of everyday life.

You really nailed it!

I walked away from this book feeling depressed. I am glad to read it had the opposite effect on you.

Mike (the Paladin) Oh well, we can't agree on everything. :)

message 5: by J.M. (new)

J.M. Wow, man! Okay. I'm in. Thanks for the excellent review, my friend (as always). And if you dig it, I'm 86 percent sure I will, too, since that's our compatibility when we compare books, after all.

Kemper Great review. I totally agree with you about this one. I loved it too.

Stephen Kemper wrote: "Great review. I totally agree with you about this one. I loved it too."

Thanks Kemper. Looking forward to the sequel.

Mike (the Paladin) I see you updated your review of this one. I suppose it's one of the books we've disagreed the most over. It happens. I'm glad you liked it...I didn't :).

message 9: by Dan (new) - rated it 5 stars

Dan Schwent You ready for the sequel next week, Stephen?

Stephen Dan wrote: "You ready for the sequel next week, Stephen?"

I can't wait. Early reviews I've seen have been very positive.

Wesley I just found out there is a sequel to this and am fast tracking it to the top of my list, I HAD NO IDEA. It's like winning the lottery, I cannot wait to get my hands on it! Wonderful review as always Stephen.

Stephen Thanks, Wesley. I haven't read the sequel yet, but thought this was superb (if my review wasn't obvious enough on that point).

message 13: by Stella (new) - added it

Stella  ☢FAYZ☢ Chen Just picked this up from a local bookstore because of your review. :) I hope to start it soon.

Stephen I hope you love it, Stella. Opinions are all over the map on this one. I thought it was brilliant.

PrincessofthePage I read this first book when it came ot and lives it also, giving out a rare 5 stars. I got the sequel I was impatiently waiting for, started reading... And put it down. I'm hoping this second time picking up the sequel will be to a result. Did you review second?

Andrew Obrigewitsch I'm reading it and fell the books is a bit satirical, and I find it quite funny.

Frank Roberts When did he manage happiness? Because it wasn't in this book.

Carolyn Stephen, the reviews of this book are so polarizing. Because of your good review I took the plunge and I'm so glad I did so. Loved this book. Also, as a side note, it was funny to me that the audio reader for this novel, Mark Bramhall, is the same artist who did the audio book reading for Angle of Repose, a book you and I both really love. Funny coincidence. Take care! Carolyn

message 19: by Agnes (new) - rated it 1 star

Agnes Conway He should have taken the road more travelled. The constant Fillory references didn't work, the stories as described wouldn't have held any child's interest and certainly wouldn't have seemed magical to a young adult.

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