Jeffrey Keeten's Reviews > The Magicians

The Magicians by Lev Grossman
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Mar 15, 12

Read from October 07 to 23, 2011

I passed on reading this book when it first came out because I was underwhelmed by the author's first book Codex. The excessively negative reviews about The Magicians peaked my interest. The complaints these reviewers had actually made me want to read the book. The positive reviews confirmed my growing suspicion that I should read this book. Although I am late to the party I must say I am glad that I overcame my initial reluctance because I loved this book.

Unfortunately this book was marketed as an adult book for Harry Potter fans. There is some truth in this marketing scheme, but too many people who are ardent Harry Potter fans are not the proper readership for this book. One reviewer said how much he despised this book, but that the "hipsters" would like it. What! Wait! does that mean I'm a hipster reader. I'm finally... cool. I probably just lost my hipster status using the word cool.

I was afraid that this would be a year one, year two, etc. magical school book series. Not so. Grossman smokes through 5 years of Brakebills in quick order giving us highlights, but leaving a lean script that keeps the pages turning.

One of my favorite scenes is when the main character Quentin Coldwater and his friends are turning into geese to fly to Brakebills South in Antarctica. "Days, weeks, maybe months and years passed. Who knew or cared? Quentin had never experienced peace and satisfaction like this. He forgot about his human past, about Brakebills or Brooklyn. Why hang on to them? He had no name anymore. He barely had any individual identity, and he didn't want one. What good were such human artifacts? He was an animal. His job was to turn bugs and plants into muscle and fat and feathers and flight and miles logged. He served only his flock-fellows and the wind and the laws of Darwin. And he served whatever force sent him gliding along the invisible magnetic rails, always southward, down the rough, stony coast of Peru, spiny Andes on his port, the sprawling blue Pacific on his starboard. He had never been happier." I actually found myself really thinking about what it would be like to be a goose.

Professor Mayakovsky the teacher at Brakebills South really turns boys and girls into men and women. It is the boot camp of magic. Mayakovsky sums it up to Quentin on his first day. "You need to do more than memorize, Quentin. You must learn the principles of magic with more than your head. You must learn them with your bones, with your blood, your liver, your heart, your deek. He grabbed his crotch through his dressing gown and gave it a shake." Long before the reader gets to this point they will be well aware that they are not hanging out in Hogwarts, but I think this sentence illustrates the difference in approach that Grossman takes with Brakebills.

Grossman doesn't shy away from Harry Potter. He actually makes a couple of references to the Hogwarts series. They are books in the evolving reality of the world he creates for this book. Our heroes, be they too human, moments of bravery wrapped around acts of cowardice finally arrive in Fillory. I was least interest in this portion of the book which makes me wonder if I will like the follow up book The Magician King. I've underestimated Grossman before so at some point I will give it a try.

Most of the time I didn't even realize that I was reading a fantasy book. The characters reminded me of people that I went to college with. Grossman actually does a good job developing the characters. They are all interesting, flawed, very human characters that again made me believe in the reality of this world. I suppose because there is sex and copious alcohol consumption, although not flagrantly so, reviewers have made comparisons to Bret Easton Ellis. I will say all of the sex was in the context of the plot and even sometimes gave the plot a proper nudge. I have also seen comparisons to Donna Tartt and to me that is a closer comparison because the characters had more personality than what I experienced in Less than Zero.

If you are looking for Harry Potter even an adult Harry Potter you should probably give this book a pass. If you are looking for just a damn good edgy book with well developed characters and a compelling plot than pick up a copy and start reading. Before you know it you will have consumed 100 pages and will be stealing time from the rest of your life to finish the remaining pages.
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Comments (showing 1-11 of 11) (11 new)

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Kemper The sequel to this was also very good.


Jeffrey Keeten Kemper wrote: "The sequel to this was also very good."

Thanks Kemper. I have a copy and I hope to read it soon.


Nataliya "Professor Mayakovsky" alone makes me want to read this book.


Jeffrey Keeten Nataliya wrote: ""Professor Mayakovsky" alone makes me want to read this book."

A Professor you DON'T want to disappoint.


message 5: by Patricia (new)

Patricia I'm halfway through this book and I'm loving it. Quentin is so real, sometimes it hurts to read.


Jeffrey Keeten Patricia wrote: "I'm halfway through this book and I'm loving it. Quentin is so real, sometimes it hurts to read."

I'm glad to hear you are loving it. I had my doubts about this book. They were quickly dashed as soon as I started flipping pages. I'm looking forward to the sequel.


Caroline Did you read the sequel yet? I also was least interested in Fillory so was wondering how I would like the sequel, but I liked it as much as The Magicians. I especially love how Grossman has crafted Julia's character in the sequel. I couldn't put that book down either.


Jeffrey Keeten Caroline wrote: "Did you read the sequel yet? I also was least interested in Fillory so was wondering how I would like the sequel, but I liked it as much as The Magicians. I especially love how Grossman has crafted..."

I haven't read the sequel yet. I have it, nestling safely on my shelves, waiting for me to work it into my reading queue. There is a lot of pushing and shoving between those books waiting in line.

I'm glad to hear that you liked the sequel. I read his book Codexwhen it first came out in 2004 and I was ambivalent about it. I liked it, but thought it missed. After reading this book I'm wondering if I need to reread Codex and see if I overlooked something. I'm going to read the sequel sometime before the end of the year. Thanks for commenting Caroline.


message 9: by Lynne (last edited May 27, 2013 10:09AM) (new) - added it

Lynne King Jeffrey, I really like your review and as always, I'm late in coming across various books. I loved the first four books of the Harry Potter series but I found the rest, although very good, formulaic. I'm not good on series.


Jeffrey Keeten Lynne wrote: "Jeffrey, I really like your review and as always, I'm late in coming across various books. I loved the first four books of the Harry Potter series but I found the rest, although very good, formula..."

I have the same problem with TV series, most should stop after three years although there are exceptions. As far as Harry Potter I actually ended up liking the movies better because the scriptwriters I felt infused more humor into the movies than what J.K. gave us in the books. Sometimes when things are bleakest just a bit of humor goes a long ways. This book surprised me. I skipped it with a scoff when it first came out, but then some reviewers on GR convinced me that I should give it a look. I'm glad I did. I still need to read volume two. Thanks for digging up one of my golden oldies. :-)


message 11: by Lynne (new) - added it

Lynne King Jeffrey, Actually I just loved the films! But volume two is super in the book series

I was in a bookshop in Bayonne here in France about ten years ago. This American student was extolling the virtues of Harry Potter and I purchased the first two books there and then. I didn't regret it either. I spent more time reading the books than actually enjoying the holiday!


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