A friend gave this book to me as a Christmas present, but the sneering reviews (on and inside the book) which compared it (oh-so-favorably) to Harry Potter/Narnia/LotR (proclaiming them "weak" and this strong and bracing and refreshing and...) kept repulsing me before I could even get to the first page. She's coming to visit me next month however and I'm determined to read it! Updates to follow!
UPDATE 4: A miserable book about miserable people being miserable while doing miserable things written by, I suspect, a very miserable man. I was also disappointed, but amused, to learn how much of the novel (especially the identity of the "big bad" and the fate of an oft-mentioned ancillary character) I was able to predict ahead of time, and the dialogue in the final great confrontation felt absurdly hackneyed -- especially coming from an author desperately trying to establish a narrative and style contrary to the genre he's trying to satirize/criticize/mock. You know whose story would have been far more interesting and engaging and subversive? MARTIN CHATWIN. You know whose story was a tiresome exercise in sneering banality? QUENTIN COLDWATER.
UPDATE 3: This is a quick, easy read -- i think that has a lot to do with Grossman's "tell-don't-show" approach to writing, and the psuedo-serialized format. The characters are pretty flat, just broad generalizations (fat guy, uptight girl, mopey protagonist, smart love-interest, mohawk guy, Russian teacher, hot young teacher, etc.) and the dialog actually feels LESS realistic and MORE awkward for all the modern-day slang and profanity that's shoehorned in. The sex scenes are vague descriptions, and for that I have to admire Grossman's restraint -- after all, he's trying very hard to write for "adults".
UPDATE 2: I think I've finally realized what this actually reminds me of. It's like a pale imitation of the graphic novel mini-series The Books of Magic
by Neil Gaiman (and its subsequent, lesser follow-up serieses "The Books of Magic", "The Names of Magic" and "The Age of Magic".) It seems to draw a lot from "The Books of Magic" actually, complete with an immature (emotionally, psychologically, intellectually and physically) wizard slowly using his power to indulge his every base instinct and whim and losing touch with humanity. Sadly, there's no great sense of loss here, only a slow realization that the protagonist is as tiresome at the end as he was at the beginning.
UPDATE 1: I found this line from a GoodReads review of the book and it seems to sum up what I'm feeling and what most non-hipsters felt about it: "This is a cold and sterile book for people who think themselves too sophisticated for genre fiction, a sub-section of the reading public that, I suspect, includes the author." Grossman is a "teller" not a "shower" and as a result he's really not much of a writer. The only parts I've actually found compelling have been the brief descriptions of the natural world in Upstate New York, and that's only because I grew up there and remember the place quite clearly; I am substituting my memories for the artistry Grossman lacks. So far every character has been unpleasant and unsympathetic, no-one is really happy or even capable of feeling content, and magic is empty and apparently incapable of anything truly special. How very much like every "profound" novel written these days! Maybe this will appeal more to fans of Jonathan Franzen and Michael Chabon? It will certainly appeal to those readers who mistake misery and depression and nihilism for depth and insight and realism. Is the message that magic cannot make you happy, because it is merely a tool and as such simply reflects the inner character of the user? That could have been conveyed without hitting the reader quite so hard over the head with how utterly miserable everyone and everything is. Part of the problem with "The Magicians" is that the author clearly sees the subject matter as far beneath him, like the "Fillory" books which Quentin loves but others dismiss as childish and through which Grossman conveys his utter contempt for Lewis, Tolkien, Rowling, etc. and their fans; it is as though Grossman and his hipster readers are outside looking in and sharing smirking, adolescent jibes directed at the people having genuine fun inside. After all, they're too COOL to join the party. I hope things improve, but it's not much hope.