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The Magicians

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In a secret world of forbidden knowledge, power comes at a terrible price ...

Quentin Coldwater's life is changed forever by an apparently chance encounter: when he turns up for his entrance interview to Princeton he finds his interviewer dead - but a strange envelope bearing Quentin's name leads him down a very different path to any he'd ever imagined.

The envelope, and the mysterious manuscript it contains, leads to a secret world of obsession and privilege, a world of freedom and power and, for a while, it's a world that seems to answer all Quentin's desires. But the idyll cannot last - and when it's finally shattered, Quentin is drawn into something darker and far more dangerous than anything he could ever have expected ...

488 pages, Paperback

First published August 11, 2009

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About the author

Lev Grossman

60 books8,891 followers
My novel The Magicians was a New York Times bestseller. So was the sequel, The Magician King. The third book in the trilogy, The Magician's Land, will be published in August 2014.

There's yet more information about me and my books on my website.

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5 stars
58,703 (22%)
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3 stars
70,735 (27%)
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Displaying 1 - 30 of 24,518 reviews
Profile Image for Nataliya.
782 reviews12.4k followers
April 25, 2023
'You can't just decide to be happy.'
'No, you can't. But you can sure as hell decide to be miserable. Is that what you want?'
The answer to this, as far as Quentin Coldwater is concerned, is a resounding 'YES!' At any stage of his life. He makes Holden Caulfield look like a bundle of sunshine. He makes Charlie Brown resemble an embodiment of optimism and positivity. Eeyore the Donkey is brimming with life force compared to our perpetually unhappy hero.
'...You couldn't have everything. Or at least the available evidence pointed overwhelmingly to that conclusion.'

Not only will he always think of a cup as being half-empty, but he will drive himself crazy wondering who the hell drank half of it to make it so. Hand him his deepest dream on a silver platter - and five minutes later he will be whining in a decidedly disillusioned fashion about how it fails to make him happy. Disillusionment and dissatisfaction are how he operates.

If ennui were to be a superpower, Quentin Coldwater would have been Superman, propelled into space by the power of his constant negativity.

'All of it just confirmed his belief that his real life, the life he should be living, had been mislaid through some clerical error by the cosmic bureaucracy. This couldn't be it. It had been diverted somewhere else, to somebody else, and he'd been issued this shitty substitute faux life instead.'
In 'The Magicians' Lev Grossman goes against the popular device of literature - the allure of wish fulfillment, the deep-rooted belief that once you find that secret place in life where you belong things will magically be alright and you will be happy. (*)
(*) Granted, he goes against the literary mainstream while at the same time using the obviously commercially successful formula of a young protagonist with a newly found magical ability who suddenly finds himself in an equivalent of a British boarding school (well, in this case, a college. In Upstate New York. But it's still a British boarding school, really).

So it seems that Grossman tries to get out of mainstream while firmly staying in the commercially successful mainstream. Mmmmm-kay.
Anyhow, unlike what we are supposed to expect, Quentin, miserable and disillusioned in the quasi-grown-up way that quite a few teens seem to be, does not find happiness in his unexpected admission to Brakebills, a magical college. Apparently he learns that - suprise! - you cannot just be handed happiness, that you actually need to put some effort into it, and that you can easily poison anything, even a fairy-tale, if you approach anything from the vantage point of pseudo-sophisticated negativity.
'Every ambition he'd ever had in his life had been realized the day he was admitted to Brakebills, and he was struggling to formulate a new one with any kind of practical specificity.'

Actually, the aura of overly disillusioned ennui-infused pseudo-sophistication in the faux-adult way (the way that tends to overstate almost explicitly that it's SO NOT Harry Potter and the like) permeates this entire book, getting in the way of pacing, character development and ultimately many readers' enjoyment.

As Quentin mechanically stumbles through his four years of quasi-British education in the self-pitying perpetually drunken haze, the plot stammers all over the place, never picking up a consistent pace, never leading to the reader actually caring about what happens to this set of miserable characters. So many situations are introduced and incompletely dealt with, without much consequence and/or resolution. So many potentially interesting storylines are never pursued further, with Grossman choosing to focus on the less exciting parts of this story. And a belated infusion of plot about three quarters into the book, after a long and befuzzling journey through Quentin's magical education, comes way overdue and at this point fails to impress and, frankly, begins to irritate.
All this while Quentin, despite his apparently staggering intellect, acts like a frustratingly clueless idiot and makes you want to reach into the book and shake some sense into him. And all of this just to see him come to even greater depths of self-pity and annoying in their platitude 'revelations':
'He wasn't in a safe little story where wrongs were automatically righted; he was still in the real world, where bad bitter things happened for no reason, and people paid for things that weren't their fault.'
And with this deep realization, Quentin gets this timeless piece of advice that summarizes the entire point of this story in addition to the message that things tend to suck quite badly (insert sarcasm here if you'd like):
'You found out, didn't you? There's no getting away from yourself. Not even in Fillory.'
Hey, I do not mind reading about the characters who are childish and stupid and very self-centered. What I expect is that in a series of events (a.k.a. plot) they will actually grow and change and learn something - something to make me feel that it was worth reading the book for. Even Holden Caulfield seems to change and grow up a bit, despite his uber-teenageness.

Quentin and his friends, on the other hand, do not appear to grow up in any way; they are contentedly stuck in the perpetual aimlessness and inflated self-pity, all while flaunting their oh-so-special disullusionment which reminds me of pointless drunk 'adult' college conversations that lead nowhere - and I'm left a bit annoyed and irritated by it all.

Anyway, 2.5 stars. Not a horrible book, but not that good either. Just kinda 'meh', honestly. It left me not really caring about what happened or what will happen next - and that's not really a good sign. Quentin can brood himself into oblivion - I don't care much.

'For just one second, look at your life and see how perfect it is. Stop looking for the next secret door that is going to lead you to your real life. Stop waiting. This is it: there's nothing else. It's here, and you'd better decide to enjoy it or you're going to be miserable wherever you go, for the rest of your life, forever.'
Profile Image for Emily May.
1,990 reviews298k followers
April 15, 2016
I know this is a thing us bibliophiles really shouldn't say EVER, but: I think the show is way better.

Don't hurt me.

When I started watching the SYFY version of The Magicians and actually really liked it, I made a quick mental note to go back and read this book first before I got too far into it. Because the book can usually be relied on to be better, I wanted to experience it in written format first. In this case, though, the book makes the story more boring, the characters downright insufferable, and it contains less of an emotional pull.

I've heard others pulling up comparisons to Harry Potter and The Chronicles of Narnia, and I can see the obvious influence of both - a boarding school for magicians and doorways to a secret world - but The Magicians lacks the magical spark of either.

In fact, it only barely feels like a fantasy novel, reminding me more of Tartt's The Secret History with a touch of magic (something that may or may not sound appealing). Actually, that description fits so right that I wonder if I stole it from someone else... Anyway, this is about a bunch of smart beyond belief characters who walk around being self-obsessed and annoying.
“Are you smart?”
There was no non-embarrassing answer to this.
“I guess.”
“Don’t worry about it, everybody here is. If they even brought you in for the Exam you were the smartest person in your school, teachers included.”

It feels like it's about pretentious people being pretentious. Don’t get me wrong, I like smart characters. I like unlikable characters, even. Characters who do stupid things for stupid reasons can quickly irk me, as can self-sacrificing heroes who fail to show that people are complex, difficult and selfish at times.

But I enjoy it when characters actually show me intellectual acuity and emotional maturity. I’m not so convinced when page one introduces us to our characters who are pretty much the best at everything, have crazy GPAs, wealthy families, secure futures and still manage to feel so damn sorry for themselves. Let's all quote Milton and celebrate the misery of our perfect lives!

In the TV show, the characters are not quite so annoying. Their intellect is quirky and charming, and their dissatisfaction with life more convincing. And - maybe because it is the nature of a TV show - it was nice to actually be shown something, rather than simply told it.

The book is so self aware. So very sure of its own superiority as a “literary” version of a magic school. I feel like we’re rarely shown anything, just constantly told by the author how special Fillory is and how sophisticated the characters are. We are told that Quentin’s intellect is virtually beyond compare, and yet he’s a blubbering idiot for a lot of the novel (plus childish and lacking in any growth).

Truth be told - it's boring. I'm not sure how it's possible to make a story that borrows so heavily from two of the most exciting series out there into something this tedious, but here you are! An emotionally-detached third-person narrative that instructs us in the story and characters, instead of ever weaving a compelling tale.

I'll stick to the TV show.

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Profile Image for D. Pow.
56 reviews248 followers
February 26, 2010
This book has been hard-pedaled as an adult Harry Potter and it is-but with a soulless little git like Draco Malfoy as the main protagonist. Grossman doesn't get to the genuine transformative joy possible in books about other worlds and magic, the metaphorical kick one can bring to the reader. 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.

To be fair there are certain things Grossman does well. There are isolated set-pieces of violence and magical ritual gone wrong, that are thrilling, scary and visceral. He also is very clever at conveying the huge rush of empowerment a disenfranchised teen would feel when uncovering then honing magical powers. The old riff of a nobody becoming somebody is done well here, even though it’s crouched in dry, clinical and mechanistic terms that undermine its effectiveness.

And that’s the rub here. For every scene of terror and beauty, there are two that are clumsy and lame. Grossman presents certain key plot elements so obtusely that they hit like a feather instead of a hammer. He condenses action at the wrong times, has pivotal stuff occur off-stage as it were and just doesn’t deliver from page to page either on the commercial fiction scale or one grander.

Traditional Fantasy Novels power(as well as their stodgy childishness) lie to a degree in their pedagogical function. They are to an extent primers for young people on how to behave, how to become a more effective human being, how to be brave in the face of adversity and to learn to be selfless on occasion even though ones adolescent genes(and jeans) are screaming for pure selfish, solipsistic, I am the center of the universe, expression.

So there is a journey up Mount Doom by sad, wounded Frodo and stout, brave Sam. And Harry Potter puts his nuts on the line over and over against that nose-less wonder, Voldemort, secure in the knowledge that Ron and Hermione always have his back. They are, in the course of their journeys, becoming braver and stronger and less rooted in their myopic view of things. In Grossman’s novel, the protagonist starts out as a selfish turd, segue ways to more selfish turdism, and then does a sideways double back flip into being (you guessed it) a selfish turd. This is refreshing to an extent-how like real life it is-people seldom change unless confronted by trauma or some extreme events. But in Grossman’s hands it is just one more nail in the coffin, taking an eminently worthwhile premise(adult Harry Potter, twisted Narnia) and magically transforming it through bad craft into utter shit.
Profile Image for Simeon.
Author 1 book384 followers
October 7, 2011
The story of a quasi-sociopathic high school cretin who mouth-breathes his way into an exclusive fantasy club of anhedonic wizards - replete with bad writing and worse story-telling.

June 25, 2015
If you will, for just one second, look at your life and see how perfect it is. Stop looking for the next secret door that is going to lead you to your real life. Stop waiting. This is it: there’s nothing else. It’s here, and you’d better decide to enjoy it or you’re going to be miserable wherever you go, for the rest of your life, forever.”

“You can’t just decide to be happy.”

“No, you can’t. But you can sure as hell decide to be miserable. Is that what you want? Do you want to be the asshole who went to Fillory and was miserable there? Even in Fillory? Because that’s who you are right now."
Brakebills is like Harry Potter for assholes, and to that, I say bravo because that's a fucking fantastic thing. Yes, Harry Potter was a pretty dark series by its end, but it started as a children's tale. The characters are admirable. Brave. Courageous. They are imperfect, but they're often models, paragons. Real life isn't like that. Real people are jerks, and, let's admit it, we'll do anything to get ahead. We lie. We cheat. We steal. This is the American dream, and this is what the (American) characters in this book represent. The main character in this book is a depressed, over-analytical little shit and that's just fine, because I'm a glass-half-empty kind of person, and he resonates with me.

Are the main characters in this book nice people? Fuck no. Maybe that's why I like them. I'm an asshole. Let me clarify that. I'm not deliberately mean. I am not a jerk, but "asshole" to me, means you do what it takes to get ahead in life. It's all good to be meek, to be gentle. It's fine, but it's not going to get you anywhere in life. Studies have shown that leaders are, in fact, people who are jerks. Sure, you can be charming, charismatic, but everyone needs a little assholery in their life, however well-concealed.

If you're content with normalcy and a quiet, calm life without stress? Great! Good for you. I admire you, and I say that with neither condescension nor sarcasm. But a nice, quiet life where one doesn't want to get ahead, where one doesn't feel the need to stand up for one's self is not for everyone. It's not for me. I need stress in my life. I need power. And that, my friend, is why I like the characters in this book. They're assholes, they're not perfect, they're stupid at times, they're more Slytherin than Gryffindor, and they're the symbol of 'Murica, y'all. This ain't your British boarding school.

The main character in this book is a brilliant kid who stumbles (literally) into the Magical school of Brakebills. There is no magical legacy here. There are no magical families. Brakebills is effort only, talent only. Either you got magical powers or you're just a Muggle. Quentin passes the magical test (not ever having known that such a magical world existed), and is admitted into the school. Harry Potter jumped at the thought of entry into Hogwarts. Quentin: not so much.
Suppose it really was a school for magic. Was it any good? What if he’d stumbled into some third-tier magic college by accident? He had to think practically. He didn’t want to be committing himself to some community college of sorcery when he could have Magic Harvard or whatever.
Skepticism! Yeah!

The characters in this book do not come from all walks of life. They're the best of the best. The crème de la crème. Throw them all together and you've got the equivalent of a bunch of pre-med studenst killing each other to get 0.1% higher in class. Quentin is fucking brilliant, the best in his school in the normal world. It's not going to matter here.
"Are you smart?”

There was no non-embarrassing answer to this.

“I guess.”

“Don’t worry about it, everybody here is. If they even brought you in for the Exam you were the smartest person in your school, teachers included. Everyone here was the cleverest little monkey in his or her particular tree. Except now we’re all in one tree together. It can be a shock. Not enough coconuts to go round. You’ll be dealing with your equals for the first time in your life, and your betters. You won’t like it.
There's no Harry and Ron and Hermione here. There is friendship, yes, but there's always a spirit of competition here, because they're all the best striving to be the best among the best.
They were quiet and intense, always eyeing each other assessingly, as if they were trying to figure out who—if it came right down to it—would take out who in an intellectual death match. They didn’t congregate overmuch—they were always civil but rarely warm. They were used to competing and used to winning. In other words, they were like Quentin, and Quentin wasn’t used to being around people like himself.
There's not much playing, a lot of studying. Friendship does not come easily. Harry met Ron and bonded on the Hogwarts Express. It's a much bumpier road to friendship here.
“Listen to me carefully,” Fogg was saying. “Most people are blind to magic. They move through a blank and empty world. They’re bored with their lives, and there’s nothing they can do about it. They’re eaten alive by longing, and they’re dead before they die.

“But you live in the magical world, and it’s a great gift. And if you want to get killed here, you’ll find plenty of opportunities without killing each other.”
The magical system in ths book is mechanical, methodical. There are no muttered phrases, no cute names for spells. Instead of a visible villain like Voldemort, the evil, the terror in this book are much less visible, but by no means less effective. I've rarely read a phrase in a book that has more accurately described a feeling of a panic attack.
There was something odd about the man’s appearance—Quentin couldn’t seem to make out his face. For a second he couldn’t figure out why, and then he realized it was because there was a small leafy branch in front of it that partially obscured his features. The branch came from nowhere. It was attached to nothing. It just hung there in front of the man’s face.

Then Professor March stopped speaking and froze in place.

Alice had stopped, too. The room was silent. A chair creaked. Quentin couldn’t move either. There was nothing restraining him, but the line between his brain and his body had been cut.

He circled Professor March. There was something strange about the way he moved, something too fluid about his gait. When he walked into the light, Quentin saw that he wasn’t quite human, or if he had been once he wasn’t anymore. Below the cuffs of his white shirt his hands had three or four too many fingers.

Fifteen minutes crawled by, then half an hour. Quentin couldn’t turn his head, and the man moved in and out of his field of view. He puttered with Professor March’s equipment. He toured the auditorium. He took out a knife and pared his fingernails. Objects stirred and shifted restlessly in place whenever he walked too near them. He picked up an iron rod from March’s demonstration table and bent it like a piece of licorice.

Quentin’s fear came and went and came back in huge sweating rushes, crashing waves. He was sure something very bad was happening, it just wasn’t clear yet exactly what.
I know there are a lot of people who hated this book. 3.6 is a pretty crap rating for a book of this popularity, but I loved it, and here's why. The main character is smart, he wants to get ahead, he is pessimistic, he is a skeptic. Why is this a bad thing? What's wong with looking at everything through

The world is not all rainbows and roses. We need people who see the glass as half-empty. Fantasy is great, I absolutely love Harry Potter, but there's always too much of a good thing. Main characters do not always have to be admirable. Anti-heroes are awesome, too. Selfishness, narcissism, misanthropy: these are not necessarily negative traits because they make a character human. Are you perfect? I know I'm not. I know I have my dark moments. I know that I hate people 97% of the time because humans are dumb. It's not wrong to want to get ahead in life. It's not wrong to want to be the best.

The world is not a magical place. It is filled with corruption and people who will step on you if given the chance. Survival of the fittest means you have to be a jerk at times; you have to stand up for yourself.

That is why I like this book. It is dark, it is pessimistic, it views fantasy and magic in a more methodical, more sensible manner. It is realistic. If you want your rainbows and magical lions that talk, go back to Narnia. I'll take my Brakebills.
Profile Image for Mark Lawrence.
Author 72 books51.7k followers
September 12, 2023
A definite 5*

EDIT: Having now read the highest rated reviews of the book I'm amazed at the amount of vitriol on show. I've no idea what provoked it. I stand by my opinion and don't recognise the novel portrayed in many of these reviews.

The Magicians immediately appealed to my writer bones. There a great many sharply observed and cuttingly sarcastic lines. There a good few beautiful ones. Along with the Victorian sensibilities of the Brakebills school of magic Lev Grossman adopts a witty almost drawing room prose that has notes of Oscar Wilde and the later Evelyn Waugh. More recently it puts me in mind of the literary excellence of Josiah Bancroft.

So the writing is top notch. The characters? The plot? All very engaging too.

I have seen some reviewers make a big deal of the point of view character, Quentin Coldwater, being an unsympathetic protagonist. I really didn’t get that. The book has been called Harry Potter for grownups (it contains a magic school, what else will people call it?) and certainly Quentin is no brave-hearted, resilient hero-in-the-making in the model of young Mr Potter. He’s flawed, human, he variously feels sorry for himself, or thinks too much of himself… What part of this is not covered by “for grownups”? Quentin is someone unable to be happy. Even when given exactly what he wants. This is a part of the human condition, no rarer than blue eyes, especially in the teenage years. I enjoyed the skill with which it was shown to us and the gradual building of consequences.

The supporting cast are interesting. The magic school is more of a university and so we have drinking and sex. We have rich, privileged kids affecting disaffection, forming cliques, being overbearingly intellectual. It’s all very well drawn and often amusing. It’s often genuinely clever too. I enjoyed spending time in the company of these complex characters.

We rattle through the school section considerably faster than I thought we would. I think a couple of years are knocked off in a single chapter at one point. The magic is interesting too. It’s not handed over in detail, there’s no Wingardium Leviosa, but we get a strong impression of its highly technical and fiddly nature. Thankfully we don’t have to suffer through that like the students do and we get to see some flashy magic later on.

So half the book is Quentin going to school and learning his trade in a Harry Potter minus Dumbledore and Voldemort style. The second half, heavily foreshadowed and linked to in the first half, involves what is an unmistakeable … let’s call it “homage” … to Narnia. It’s called Fillory in the book but we will call it what it is here. Narnia.

Anyway, Quentin has been obsessed with the Narnia books since he was a small child. Narnia is where he wants to go, needs to go, will go and where he will find the happiness that keeps slipping through his fingers.

And yes they go, via the rings (button) from the first Narnia book and the Wood Between The Worlds (now paved over with the pools converted into fountains). Narnia comes complete with fauns in the snow, a family of talking beavers, and a need to have two daughters of Eve and two sons of Adam wear the crowns and sit as kings and queens in Cair Paravel.

Of course instead of the Pevensie children it is now a collection of variously drunk, messed up, twenty-one year old magicians with relationship issues, subcutaneous demons, and at least one handgun. They do have to deal with the aftermath of the Pevensie visit though.

It’s all very well done and both cleverly deconstructs and goes beyond the Narnia books into its own post-CS Lewis plot that feeds nicely back into puzzling elements within the first half of the book.

In short this is a really good read. More sophisticated than most genre work, which I guess is why it is sometimes cited as a “crossover” book. To my mind though it is simply very well written fantasy. Harry Potter for grownups. Plus Narnia for grownups.

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Profile Image for Anne.
4,060 reviews69.5k followers
April 22, 2023
Pretend Harry Potter was a bit of a narcissistic douchebag and all of his friends were whiny a-holes who drank too much.


Now pretend that they crammed 5 years' worth of their Hogwarts adventures into one book. Except most of the adventures are fairly mundane, with a few exceptions sprinkled here and there.


Then pretend at the very end of said book, they all took a trip to a warped version of Narnia...with mixed results.


Now, if you're the type of reader who absolutely has to like the main character, or feels like you need to at the very least sympathize with them?
Then you may want to give this one a pass.
I knew going into it that this was a story populated with moody dickholes, so that part of it didn't bother me.


What I didn't realize was that this was going to be a fairly random, rambling book. It just sort of goes along at its own pace, telling the story it wants to tell, without much regard to how much you want it to get to the fucking point already.
The short version?
Quentin finds out he's one of the elite few magicians in the world, and then embarks on a rather dull journey to find his place in the world.


Ok, now having said all of that, you may be wondering why I gave this 4 stars.
Well, first off, because I read the shit out of it. I can't for the life of me pinpoint why, but I didn't want to put it down. I just had to keep reading. And I had a lot of stuff to do that weekend!
And, second, I really enjoyed the way the story sort of started out one way and then ended up in a completely different spot than I thought it would.
Full circle craziness! <--in the blandest way imaginable, of course.


Oh, and for those of you who are wondering?
Yeah, this is absolutely nothing like the television show. And by absolutely nothing I mean, duh, it has stuff in common! Hello? It's based on the books! But it looks like they took the general idea of the books and made a show out of it, instead of making a faithful rendition of the story.
Anyhoo. I probably wouldn't have read this if I hadn't started binging the show on Netflix one Saturday with my son. But after 6 or 7 episodes we were kinda burned out. It felt like a low-budget show about whiners at a college for magic, and neither of us felt like pressing Next Episode.
I was curious enough to see what inspired it...


I'll be the first to admit this is a Not For Everyone book, but I enjoyed it. Then again, I like weird stuff...

Profile Image for nostalgebraist.
Author 4 books454 followers
February 24, 2013
This was in a special category for me: books whose positive reception make me question my membership in the human race. After finishing it I stared at the glowing blurbs on the back, looked up some positive reviews online, and thought, who are these people? What could they have been thinking? How could they possibly be so different from me? After that it took a few days of solid social interaction with good friends to convince me that I actually had something in common with my fellow humans -- that they weren't a bunch of ineffable Lovecraftian things hiding in bodies that looked like mine.

(The most extreme version of this experience I've ever had was with Special Topics in Calamity Physics, a book widely praised but so staggeringly, contortedly bad that when I tried to review it, I got to 4300 words and gave up in despair because I hadn't even half exhausted all the issues I had with it.)

What The Magicians very clearly wants to be is a darker, more realistic, more laddish version of Harry Potter or Narnia, combining the cutesy, whimsical worldbuilding of children's fantasy with adolescent protagonists who are horrible little shits in the way real adolescents are horrible little shits. So far, so good, I guess -- I mean it could have been a really funny parody, at least. However, Grossman isn't really going for parody. His book is rarely laugh-out-loud funny, and he seems to want the reader to feel invested in his characters and impressed with the psychological realism of his twist on the fantasy novel. Unfortunately, I was unable to rise to this task, because of the following basic fact about The Magicians:

Everything in this book is determined by Grossman's desire to imitate or respond to his literary models, not by considerations of human behavior. The characters don't act the way they do because real people (or even some distorted version of real people) would act that way, but because their actions contrast with the way Grossman imagines a "standard" children's fantasy character would behave in the same situation. The fantasy world(s) in which the story is set do not make sense, but are supposed to be impressive simply because they are darker and grittier than their literary models. If you stop thinking of everything as a genre joke and start thinking of it as an actual story about people, it falls apart completely.

This is especially bad because the Grossman yearns to be patted on the back for writing a "realistic" fantasy novel. But unlike, say, China Mieville, he doesn't try for realism by seriously thinking about how the darker side of human nature would play itself out in a magical world. He just takes a set of models (HP and Narnia), makes them darker and more vulgar (in implausible and nonsensical ways), and then, having conflated edginess with realism, sits back and expects us to be impressed.

For the first two-thirds of the book, the primary model is Harry Potter, and the primary "realistic" twist is that the characters in magic school are bored. Although the main characters are all very impressed with the idea of learning magic when they first reach the magic school (which as in HP resides in a coexisting culture kept secret by magic), they quickly lose interest and start spending all of their time drinking to excess, playing pool, and bitching about people they know and the general tedium of their little lives. This is kind of a funny idea, but the transition from curiosity to indifference is not made real. The characters simply go from one pole to the other in the course of a very short number of pages (covering months of in-story time). As with everything else in the book, Grossman seems to have been so pleased with his clever twist on his literary models that he didn't think he needed to make it psychologically natural. The characters are bored, and being bored is unadmirable, and that means it's realistic -- what more psychology do you need?!

The characters' incuriosity spares Grossman from having to fill in many of the details of his fantasy world -- if no one asks a question, the reader never hears its answer. Harry Potter also relies on this mechanism, but it makes much more sense there because the characters are younger. They enter magic school around age 12 -- an age when many people are still forming their basic worldviews. As a result, it's easy to imagine that they just take the existence of magic in stride, rather than going around grabbing lapels and demanding explanations. Grossman's characters, though, are 18 when the book begins, and it's difficult for me to imagine an 18-year-old who wouldn't freak out in some way when confronted with the existence of a hidden magic world. Remember, the characters are literally discovering a vast conspiracy -- wizards have been hiding magic from everyone for centuries. Why do they do it? Why don't wizards use magic to improve the world of ordinary humans? Harry Potter at least makes gestures towards answering these questions; The Magicians doesn't even do that, because the main characters -- bafflngly -- don't seem to give a shit.

Grossman even goes out of his way to specify at the beginning that his protagonist, Quentin Coldwater, is a physics nerd who, at 18, is taking college-level advanced physics classes. (I was pleased to see him name-check Differential Geometry, which is exactly the sort of subject that such an advanced high school student might know a few things about.) Now, I also like physics, and if I were transported to magic land one of the things I would ask, in the course of my frantic label-grabbing question-asking "how can this be fucking possible?" tour, is how magic interacts with the laws of fundamental physics. I mean, physicists have developed these theories that seem to explain everything we can observe, and yet there's this extremely powerful force out there which could be harnessed by weird crusty old dudes centuries ago yet has escaped the notice of modern physics entirely? How?! Well, that's a question that Harry Potter sure isn't interested in answering, and one might hope that a book that fancies itself a grown-up HP, especially with a physics-nerd protagonist, would concern itself with it. Nope! Quentin doesn't care. He basically forgets about physics after the first few chapters. I understand that some people get less nerdy when they get to college, but come on -- at least show me the psychological process, Grossman. Later on there's a part where Quentin's studious girlfriend is working on a thesis about how to magically violate the uncertainty principle (ha!) and Quentin just thinks it's boring. Again, things work by the logic of cliches rather than the logic of psychology -- in the beginning Quentin is playing a nerd and later on he's playing a jaded college senior and his ostensible interests just adjust to fit the cliche of the moment.

Why are these people so unhappy? They are in college learning a fascinating subject, their personal lives seem to involve no special difficulties above and beyond those of the average privileged college student, so where's the problem? Grossman so thoroughly fails to provide a motivation (remember, it's dark, so it must be realistic) that it starts to seem like all of the characters, and particularly Quentin, are probably just clinically depressed. This raises the question, though, of why none of them even consider this. The book covers seven years of magic school in a few hundred pages, which is a pretty remarkable span of time in which to be miserable and never ever think about why (except "magic land didn't satisfy me like I thought it would" -- again, good genre subversion but bad psychology -- why don't they wonder why they are unsatisfied?). The characters start out as 18-year-olds with the maturity of 14-year-olds and end up as 25-year-olds with the maturity of 14-year-olds. It's conceivable that someone could change this little in seven years, but again -- give me the damn psychology, Grossman.

The only likable character in all of this is a sort of punk-ish nerd who the main characters all hate because he's really awkward, even though he spends all of his time doing interesting shit rather than drinking and bitching. Is this some kind of joke about how even in magic land (paradise for nerds?) awkward people will get treated poorly? But then we're supposed to sympathize deeply with the main characters and the difficulties they face as boring entitled assholes and I just don't get it. Where is my entry-way into these characters? I've read and enjoyed a lot of books about really awful people, but in all of those cases there was something that rang very true about the characters' particular brand of awfulness. Grossman's characters aren't awful in a way that feels real, they're just awful as a genre joke. Ha, bet you've never seen Harry Potter starring an asshole before! Nope, I haven't. But why is he an asshole? What's going on in his head? Come on, this is Creative Writing 101 stuff!

In the last third of the book we switch over from Potter pastiche to Narnia pastiche and there's some metafictional stuff and a bunch of thematic stuff I would probably discuss if I cared more about what Grossman is trying to do. But I don't. His handling of his themes is so crude and inhuman that I just don't care what he's trying to say.

There were a few scenes that I did really like, mostly those about elements of the fantasy world itself -- like a scene where the characters transform into birds and fly to Antarctica, or one about a powerful and sinister wizard who looks like Magritte's "Son of Man" painting. These scenes make me think that, ironically, Grossman would do much better if he tried to write a more ordinary, non-subversive fantasy novel. But this imaginative stuff never lasts for long, because Grossman has to keep us regularly updated on the characters' horrible lust triangles and how totally shitfaced they were last night. Blech.
Profile Image for Dan Schwent.
3,005 reviews10.6k followers
February 9, 2011
Quentin Coldwater is an unhappy teen, eyeing up an uncertain future in college. He's secretly in love with his friend Julia. Nothing else really matters to him except the Fillory and Further series of books he's loved since childhood. Imagine how he feels when a seamingly routine college interview drops an undiscovered Fillory book in his grasp and leads him to Brakebills, a college of wizardry, and worlds beyond...

First of all, this isn't Harry Potter for adults, no matter how much people want to slap that label on it. Although if you expanded that label to Harry Potter for cynical adults who've read Harry Potter and don't think it's the greatest series ever written, it would be more accurate. It has a superficial resemblance to Harry Potter in that both books involve learning to be a wizard. That's about it. Parts of it remind me of Stephen King's The Talisman, while others reminded me of Wizard of Earthsea, and the magic reminds me of Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell.

In a nutshell, The Magicians depicts what would happen if regular people went to a college for wizards, complete with parties, sex, drugs, cursing, and making stupid choices. The characters make mistakes and act like normal people, not heroes. Quentin's never happy, not even in his relationship with Alice or his friendships with the other wizards.

One thing that stands out in The Magicians is the magic. It's not fake latin and waving wands around. It's taxing and has consequences and learning it is extremely difficult. One character's speculation that magic might be the tools left behind after the universe was created really sticks in my mind.

The back cover says it's a coming of age story. It is, and the moral of the story is Be careful what you wish for. You just might get it.
Profile Image for Mike (the Paladin).
3,144 reviews1,847 followers
May 29, 2018
*Originally reviewed in Sept. 2010*

I have a Goordreads friend who likes this book. He expressed a thought that I might not. While not wholly correct about my take he came pretty close.:

Well, first Stephen, you're right in a way, I don't like stories that are "downers just to be downers". The nihilistic attitude you see so often. I don't like the (as I've said before) "life is crap and then you die" story. So many today seem to think that for a story to have any depth it has to be deeply depressing.

On the other hand if there is a reason for the sadness in a story then it makes sense (for example Julius Winsome,( Julius Winsome ) (https://www.goodreads.com/review/show...) one of the saddest books out there, but wonderful and highly recommended).

But you were close to right about this one. It has (in my opinion) a lot of flaws. I'm sorry I feel this way for Dawn just gave it 5 stars and I agree with her on some books. So, please don't be insulted that we disagree here.

I don't hate this book, but neither do I really care for it. For much of it's length it could be said that the book actually has no plot. It's a series of events in the life of Quentin and the other students at Brakebills magical college. Some books can get away with this (Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell for example) and still be excellent reads simply by dint of world building and characterization. This one sadly didn't manage it. It sort of stumbles along giving us insight into the personality of Quentin, Elliot, Janet, and Alice, which we "do use later" (every time I use that phrase I recall Andy Griffith using it in his "retelling" of Hamlet), and finally gets around to a story line maybe three quarters of the way through.

The book has been compared to Harry Potter and Narnia. Well, I suppose if Harry were a selfish, snotty, creep...and Narnia had been conceived and written about by Stephen King this could be at least close to true. (Though King is a better writer.) In great part some of this book strikes me as written by someone (Lev Grossman) who wants to drag worlds where there is any hint of innocence and undiluted goodness into our tainted world and rub them down good with filth. This is a disillusioned, sad, and corrupted version of "the magical story". And also of magic worlds. It's not an "adult" take on it, it's a "disillusioned, tainted" take on it. It is a nihilist take on life in general told using the mode of a magic world.

I was under the impression also when I bought this book that it was one of the few to come out recently that was a stand alone novel, naive of me I admit. I see on the last page an add to watch for "The Magic King". I doubt I'll follow this volume up. I'm pretty sure at least I won't buy it as I did this one. So, 2 stars not one I'll reread.

Finally I think (sadly) that Mr. Grossman (and possibly the audience he's attempting to appeal to) more or less sneer at the literary worlds he is supposedly giving homage to here. It put's me in mind of "kids" who attempt to "ironically enjoy" things actually sneering at them all the while. The sad part is that thinking themselves to be "above it all" they actually miss the joy and...yes the magic of the things at which they sneer and look down.

No. I really don't care for and can't recommend this book. Barely 2 stars.

Update May 2016

Having watched one season of the TV series based on this book and finding it "not bad" I decided to reread the book and see if my view or views on it would have changed.

Nope, sorry. While I sort of liked the series (1st season) I stilol think the same about the book.

By the way, I also lost interest in the TV series after a couple of episodes in the next season so...sigh. Oh well.
Profile Image for Jason Pettus.
Author 24 books1,324 followers
March 24, 2010
(Reprinted from the Chicago Center for Literature and Photography [cclapcenter.com:]. I am the original author of this essay, as well as the owner of CCLaP; it is not being reprinted illegally.)

(UPDATE: After reading other reviews online, I realized that I could've made my point even more succinctly by simply saying the following: "Oh, wonderful -- another dour academe writes another fussy, joyless genre exercise, designed specifically for MFA circle-jerks who consider themselves 'above' such silly frippery. Yeah, that's exactly what the world needed." I like that review much more than my original one below, which as commenters have already noted, sounds like I didn't get the fact that Grossman deliberately ripped off the Harry Potter storyline, precisely to make the point that such a world would actually be fussy and joyless. I get that Grossman deliberately ripped off Harry Potter; my point is that he's an untalented f-cking hack for doing so, and that such a thing is profoundly offensive to those of us who are adult genre fans, and who do enjoy the Harry Potter books precisely for their sense of joy and wonder.)

Regular readers know that I mostly judge books here on relative terms -- relative to the author's experience, relative to my natural interest in its subject, relative to the amount of money that was spent promoting that book. And that's why I was so excited to get my hands on Lev Grossman's The Magicians, one of the most heavily hyped books of last autumn, because it comes with an excellent pedigree: written by the main book critic for Time magazine, it is purportedly an inventive urban-fantasy tale described by many as "Harry Potter for grown-ups" (or technically, "Harry Potter meets Narnia for grown-ups," the milieu of each taking up either half of Grossman's own novel), and with a whole series of gushing blurbs on the back cover from a whole series of impressive authors, with no less than Junot Diaz calling it "stirring, complex and adventurous." (Of course, this nicely illustrates as well the inherent ethical problems with a book reviewer writing and publishing their own creative work; because who's to say that any of these quoted authors actually meant any of the praise they give, and aren't instead terrified of Grossman doing a hatchet job on their own books for refusing to play along? That's why I'm such a stickler for the idea that professional book reviewers should never, ever publish their own creative work in the field of whatever type of literature they're paid to review, and why a big red flag goes up in my head every time one of them does.)

And it's for all these reasons that this book's massive shortcomings made me not just disappointed but actively infuriated; because when people say that this is "Harry Potter for grown-ups," they mean that it is a literal beat-for-beat plagiaristic ripoff of the Harry Potter books, such a thoroughly naked steal of someone else's ideas that I'm legitimately surprised that JK Rowling hasn't sued Grossman back into the stone age. Don't believe me? Well, just look at the evidence -- it's about a group of teenagers who receive mysterious invitations to attend a magic school, housed in a crumbling gothic castle located several hours north of a major metropolitan area, hidden from the public by powerful illusion spells and full of delightfully quirky tics like moving staircases and disappearing doors, overseen by a wise but childlike white-bearded authority figure, who just happens to own a magical map showing the location of all residents at any given moment, where for some reason all renovations seem to have been banned somewhere around the middle of the Victorian Age, which for an equally inexplicable reason has adopted both the structure and even the terms of the British educational system despite being an American school, whose students enjoy on the weekends an intercollegiate sport that's much like the magical version of a human game, and where it turns out that spell-casting is actually a fairly tedious academic process of memorization and proper inflection. J-sus, Grossman, you untalented hack, why don't you throw in a Golden F-cking Snitch while you're at it?

Now, I acknowledge that genre novels by nature are always going to share a certain amount of elements with other novels in that genre, and in fact I have no problem with that when it's done well and used merely as a starting point; for an excellent example, see Susanna Clarke's fantastic Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell, which takes a very Potteresque concept (magic actually exists in open hiding all around us) but instead does something strikingly original with the idea, creating an entire millennium-long fake history of the UK and then focusing in on the dysfunctional fuddy-duddys who are the masters of this made-up applied science. But in The Magicians, Grossman presents not even a single solitary idea that he didn't steal from someone else, essentially making the whole thing feel like the unnecessary fan-fiction product of some 17-year-old goth girl who's jealous that Rowling beat her to the punch; and while that would be fine if this actually was a piece of xeroxed fan fiction from a 17-year-old goth girl with no original ideas of her own, it's f-cking inexcusable when it's the most heavily hyped book of the year, and comes from the main book critic of Time f-cking magazine. J-sus, what a godd-mned waste of my time this derivative piece of sh-t was. F-CK YOU, LEV GROSSMAN, for stealing a week of my life that I will never get back.

Out of 10: 0.0
Profile Image for Jeffrey Keeten.
Author 3 books248k followers
August 10, 2017
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.
Profile Image for Emily (Books with Emily Fox).
551 reviews60.4k followers
April 6, 2018
(3.5? I might change it later) After deliberation I decided that the best way to describe this book is...

A muggle born Draco Malfoy who grew up reading about Narnia, learns that magic is real and Narnia might be too...

I think my main issue with his book was my own expectations. Too often people describe this book as Harry Potter books for grown ups and it's just not how I see it. The main character (all the characters actually!) is a depressed, "Iamverysmart" young adult who gets to go to a magical school thinking it's finally the answer to his unhappiness.

The pacing is what left me the most unsatisfied. The first hundred pages, the main character is introduced, he passes the exams and goes through the first 2 years of school.... IN 100 PAGES!!
He's done with school at around 200 pages. That's half the book!

If I had known that, I would have probably have enjoyed the book a lot more. I'm not sure I liked the ending... but I'm definitely planning on continuing the series and cannot wait to see where it goes!

So basically to enjoy this book you'll have to remember that the characters are unlikeable, only half the book contains the magical school so there won't be much "everyday life a la Harry Potter" here and that the school is basically just to open the magical universe.

I'll watch the TV Show and update you :)
Profile Image for Melissa ♥ Dog/Wolf Lover ♥ Martin.
3,535 reviews9,942 followers
January 29, 2019
So I listened to this on Audio from the library and I laughed my arse off for most of the book! 😃

Then I was like .......

I mean the audio was soooo good but I thought this was about something totally different!! And NO, I haven’t watched the show yet. It’s in my Netflix list but I haven’t gotten to it!

I can see why people were talking about it being a cross between Harry Potter and Narnia and I wasn’t expecting that at all!

Well, all I can say is I enjoyed it and plan on reading the rest of the trilogy. I might stay confused about it but as long as I have fun 😊😉

Happy Reading!

Mel 🖤🐶🐺🐾


Profile Image for Kasia.
76 reviews198 followers
November 9, 2009
I was ready to love this book, it's supposed to be Harry Potter like but more gritty, more realistic, more substantial, and I guess it is and I still like the idea of it. And yet this book did not work for me. I was really patient with it, I downplayed the initial irritation of incorporating the entire Potter premise. It's one thing to borrow bits and pieces, it's another to rip off a whole concept leaving out a few bits here and there and dressing up the rest. But since I'm a sucker for fantasy, so I was willing to let that go. Mimicry is the highest form of flattery, right? Mimic all you want, just make the story interesting and magical.

But the story... Meh.

The story lacked in optimism, was devoid of magic and the main character? I tried to like him, I understood him, I did not hate him, but I never really warmed up to him or to any of the other characters either. And what Grossman was trying to get across was a bit of a downer, outwardly depressing at times. It felt like he was striving to make the book something more than a mere fantasy novel, striving to grasp a deeper truth, striving to incorporate some existentialism into the story. Whatever. It might have strived but in the end it failed. At least it failed me. I would have liked it better if Grossman got in peace with the thought that you're writing a fantasy novel, and left it at that. There's nothing wrong with fantasy, not everything has to be high lit. So Mr. Grossman if you like me for your fan, don't take yourself that seriously, throw me a bone next time and put in some magic and a few optimistic thoughts into the story. Because you had the potions and the spells and all that shit, but in the end, it did not feel magical, not to me.
Profile Image for Stepheny.
381 reviews546 followers
January 19, 2016

Prepare yourselves for a rant-filled scathing review. So. Much. Hate.

When I read the Martian I really never thought there would be a book I would hate more. But boy am I putting my foot in my mouth on that one! The Magicians was the winner by a landslide for The Most Obnoxious Book of the Year Award!

Congratulations, Lev Grossman! Your book fucking sucks.

This book was said to be the “adult version of Harry Potter.” Those are some big balls you have making that claim. Especially to someone like me. This is NOT anywhere near as good as Harry Potter. In fact, you may as well compare hippogriffs to flobberworms! I mean, seriously. The two aren't even in the same realm, let alone the same fucking genre. Everything that Harry Potter is is exactly what the Magicians isn’t.

Now, I can forgive the idiot who decided to use the slogan “the adult version of Harry Potter” to help sell the Magicians. Clearly that person is a fucking moron who never read either book. It’s ok, I’ve forgiven him/her. What I can’t forgive is Lev Grossman creating the most obnoxious character I have ever encountered. That’s right! Step aside, Bella! Quentin has taken your place atop the list of Most Useless Main Character!

Quentin is…oh dear. I am not even sure where to start. Quentin is just awful. He’s plagued with self-loathing and yet so incredibly full of himself that he he’s blinded by his own shit because his head is crammed up his own ass. The dumbass actually has the audacity to demean his girlfriend for cheating on him after he cheated on her. He acts as if he is completely innocent and then rips her to pieces verbally. That’s just one example but my god, what the fuck is wrong with you?! Great storytelling, Lev!

The only memorable moment for me throughout this heaping pile of shit book was that they got turned into geese where they flew to the south pole…or was it the north? Ah, fuck it. It doesn't matter anyway because the whole storyline was pointless. Anyway, they later get turned into arctic foxes and then they fuck. The single most exciting moment in the whole entire book.

But listen, this book has absolutely no point. None. Quentin figures out he is a special snowflake- shocker. And then goes to school at the Special Snowflake Academy where he learns some magic tricks. But no one knows where the magic comes from you know. Like it’s apart of your being, ya know. And it’s all like hipster meets grunge mentality there. Everyone is so fucking privileged but they do nothing but bitch about their parents and life. Oh. And the school? Well, that could have been interesting. But instead we get barely half of the book worth of schooling before they are all graduated and find out that their lives don’t matter. They can do everything. But…DUN DUN DUN! They can also do nothing! Fascinating. No?

No. I suppose you’re right.

I almost never tell people not to read books. But if you value your sanity I would stay far, far away from this book. What a disappointment. I will not be continuing the series. I do not care what happens to anyone in it. I don’t care to see how the story progresses. I do not care one bit. So please, do not tell me how awesome the rest of them are. I will kill you lock you up in my basement and feed you to Jeff and Mr. KIng.

Profile Image for Stephen.
1,516 reviews11.2k followers
March 19, 2011
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!!!
Profile Image for Baba.
3,618 reviews987 followers
August 27, 2023
Ever wanted to read a fantasy series where the protagonists aren't weirdly gifted with suitable talents. where they swear, take drugs and have sex, where they've read Harry Potter and watch Netflix? A fantasy series where the use of magic has understandable consequences, where power really does corrupt, where there are no ridiculously romanticised relationships and key players are non-binary? Welcome to The Magicians.

The Fillory series, like the Harry Potter books in our universe is the major book fantasy series that almost every kid has read and loved; few however, as much as young Quentin Coldwater a sufferer of depression and a lover of magic. Unlike most of his peers, now in his late teens / early twenties Quentin is still obsessive about Fillory, so when circumstances appear to give him his wildest dream, a chance to go to college to become a magician, a real magician, he grabs it!

It's pretty hard to share anymore of the plot without spilling into spoiler territory, but this book, this absolute stand-out urban fantasy takes the fantasy genre to an adult level; there's no idyllic sugar-coating as seen in so many fantasy books, and it works tremendously well. It has been lauded by the likes of Stephen King, Audrey Niffenegger and George R.R. Martin and deservedly so. I just couldn't give this Five Stars because of a startling lack of (race) diversity and some basic plot holes! Still, with a twisted dark humour running throughout, and an overall plot that you can't really foresee, this is a must-read for urban fantasy lovers. The book is blatantly influenced by the Tales Of Narnia, and it would have been nice for Lev Grossman to explicitly spell that out and/or thank C.S. Lewis. Anyways, I just can't get over how much I enjoyed this read - the final 200 pages are remarkable! 9.5 out of 12 fiery Four Star read.

2021 read
Profile Image for J.L.   Sutton.
666 reviews926 followers
February 10, 2020
This was a difficult review to write. I was immediately drawn into Lev Grossman’s The Magicians, but then spent most of the remainder of the book wondering why I was reading it. The several parts of the book had a schizophrenic quality which didn’t always seem to have much to do with preceding sections or what came after. Still, it was well-written and I appreciated Grossman’s depiction of the magical world as something other than a place of awe and wonder. His rich, spoiled mages help create something of a Hogwart’s/Narnia mashup of Less than Zero. To escape what they come to view as meaningless existence, these mages travel to the mythical world of Fillory and become involved in a war they clearly don’t understand (seemingly because they have become bored with their lives and have nothing better to do). But just when I thought it would end in this aimless fashion, a really compelling conclusion drew me back in (and beckoned me to the next book). Curse you Lev Grossman! 2.5 Stars rounded up.
Profile Image for Fabian.
956 reviews1,623 followers
November 19, 2020
Terrifically horrible, a gonorrheal mess. Overly lauded by megastar writers because, as book critic for TIME, Grossman has been pivotal to an extent for some of their fame & $. Obvi.

Alas, one reads it and knows right around page three hundred what a swamp the rest of the voyage will be, as superduper 2D Harry-Hermione-Ron-Luna-& co. avatars (at a discount) find themselves, I fuck with you NOT, in a fish out of water but lame trip to the land of Narnia. A generic one, as well. It really is just those two books sewn together. That's all. Oh, and the main character has a threesome with a boy & a girl. Soooo provocative. The disenchantment happens way earlier than page 300--I lied--but somehow I keep hating myself for spending so much time trying to reach the end of this ill-conceived drivel. Who am I kidding? I was bored after page 121. (What a dud!!)

"Book critic"!? This is like that one time Roger Ebert wrote the screenplay for Beyond Valley of the Dolls: IF it had been a mega success that--like many in this literary world--are actually ill won.
Profile Image for Mary ~Ravager of Tomes~.
350 reviews941 followers
June 8, 2017
What would you do if tomorrow your Hogwarts letter came in the mail? What about if your closet became a portal to Narnia?

Suddenly there is a sharp line in the sand, dividing your life into two phases: Before Magic and After Magic.

The Magicians analyzes this concept with the very deepest, darkest pits of human sin in mind. It is an exploration of realistic responses to unrealistic circumstances.

"I got my heart's desire...and there my troubles began."

This is not a book for people who prefer their heroes be unambiguously "good". This is not a book you read to your children in hopes that they will derive some higher meaning about morality and friendship.

It will devour all of the things you relish in stories like Harry Potter and The Chronicles of Narnia. It will intentionally draw your attention toward your expectations only to shatter them into pieces.

For those of you who have seen Cabin in the Woods, this book falls into the same category with that film. This is not "Adult Harry Potter."

The magic in this story is not pretty or flamboyant. It is tedious, difficult to grasp. Part of the mastery of this book is how Grossman paralleled his writing style to match that of the magic style.

The pace here is slowwwwwwwww, but it's a necessary slowness. The language used has a very cynical quality and I could even see where it may come off as offensive.

However, I think it's important to distinguish that the language here is used as a mechanism for characterization and setting a tone, not to reflect the approval of said language by the author.

I had a really great time reading this, and I'm excited to keep exploring this idea in last two installments. That being said, this isn't a story that everyone will be able to appreciate. I think that's apparent by just how mixed the reviews are.

If you like your humor & your characters made up of morally black and grey fiber, this isn't one to miss out on.

This review and other reviews of mine can be found on Book Nest!

Buddy read this with my passionate reader friend, Jack!
Profile Image for Kaylin (The Re-Read Queen).
425 reviews1,639 followers
April 21, 2021
1 Star: DNF @ 45%

Look, I can put up with a lot, but I draw the line at weird artic-wolf furry sex.

Throughout the magical training process, for some reason the students undergo challenge after challenge that involve being turned into animals. Our main character (Quentin) and his friend (we rarely see them act friendly and instead just see him pine about how pretty she is and oh-god-the-friend-zone) are turned into wolves who retain their human consciousness but with overwhelming animal instincts. And then they have sex.


Outside of how gross it was hearing an audiobook narrate the particulars of wolf-sex, I just don’t understand why this was necessary? It doesn’t seem to be part of any plot outside of violating the main characters and causing drama. I’m just saying, if you write two characters that are interesting enough and make us root for them… you won’t need questionable animal sex to make it interesting??

Even if I could somehow ignore the wolf intercourse, I still wouldn’t have enjoyed this book:

Other Cons:

Quentin is the most insufferable narrator ever. He’s constantly bemoaning how he’s special and how that makes his life so hard y’all.

Also he’s consistently upset that pretty women aren’t just falling in love with him

He’s also upset when he finds out his gay friend (Elliot) is sleeping with someone else?? Quentin isn’t interested in him, he just can’t comprehend why someone who likes men wouldn’t be attracted to him??

So boring oh my god. Like the whole point they try and make is that magic is a bunch of hard work and hours and hours of study but god that point gets hammered in. Because literally nothing happens.

“He could sense her naked body inside her dress, smell it like a vampire smells blood.” Every woman is somehow a beautiful naked nymph even when clothed. Quentin fantasized about the breasts and clavicles of every woman he came in contact with.

There’s an intense lack of world-building? The magic system is never explained. When questioned about how the magic works, the authorities just kind of shrug and say “man it’s inside us… the universe yo,” like some sort of stoner hipster. Which is fine… but what is your government? How is this school maintained?? Who decided anything???

The characters never do anything. They just sort of respond to things the people in authority decide for them, and none of it is very interesting? Theres a whole chapter dedicated to the students morphing into geese and just flying around for days and days. It was so boring.


It’s a Harry-Potter school without the magic and fun, in a Narnia-esque land without the magic and fun. All built to appeal to high-school boys who feel so different and so special and rage about the friend-zone.
Profile Image for [Name Redacted].
797 reviews400 followers
February 10, 2017
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.
Profile Image for Kemper.
1,390 reviews6,965 followers
August 2, 2011
A quick and easy way to describe this would be to call it Harry Potter for adults. There's a magic school and a lot more sex and booze than poor old Harry ever had. But that doesn't do it justice because this was an extremely original and unique twist on the notion of what it would be like to actually live in a world where magic and fantasy realms exist.

Quentin Coldwater is a bored teenager getting ready to apply for college but is already seriously disillusioned with his life and wishes things were more like his favorite fantasy novels set in a land called Fillory, which is essentially the author's stand-in for Narnia. However, Quentin quickly learns that he's got magical talent, and he's suddenly attending a training academy called Brakebills.

Quentin is the kind of guy who after finding out he won a huge lottery would instantly start bitching about how bad the taxes will be. Even though he's always longed for a world closer to his Filory novels, he never sees the adventure he's living by learning magic and all the things that go into his training. Learning magic and even falling in love don't make him happy, and he holds onto the childish idea that there's some 'next place' that will finally make him complete.

To make matters worse, once he and his friends graduate, they learn that there's no real need for magic since there are no big magical threats so they use their talents to live fat and easy while partying too much and trying to entertain themselves. Until an old classmate appears with the news that Filory is real.

There's three big things at work in this book. The idea that magic is real, and the author put a great deal of effort into developing the idea of magic in the real world with specific rules. The second is that the idea of journeying to a magical land on some kind of quest would be a fun adventure is actually pretty naive when you consider how actually bloody and insane the kind of things described would be. (Think about what it would REALLY be like to have some kind of half-human/half-beast run at you with a sword.) The third (and most interesting) is that a young man with a world of possibilities in front of him would find himself disappointed with life because it isn't like an adventure story and his stubborn refusal to realize that life will never be like a fantasy novel even if he eventually makes it to an actual fantasy world.

Fast-paced, funny, sometimes tragic and always entertaining, this was a book that I really enjoyed for it's offbeat way of looking at magic and fantasy stories.
Profile Image for Cindy.
855 reviews95 followers
August 9, 2015
Okay I am in the minority I didn't really like this book. I didn't think it was going to be a Harry Potter, as a matter of fact I knew it wouldn't be even though it was compared to HP.... the author even compared it to HP which its not.

I can enjoy that this is a "tribute" to fantasy..... but that's about it. It was a depressing poorly written book. Details seemed to be lacking and the only details we'd get is a knock off version of another fantasy book. The characters were one sided and had no personality, they were just a name in a book really.

There was occasional swearing to make this book more adult but really it was unnecessary. Also there was a lot of breast looking and sex which didn't really add to the plot line.

The writing was very poor, there was a lot of repetition to the words. Almost every sentence started with Quenten...... Quenten.....

This was a very big disappointment for me because I would have thought the idea was a great one. The poor writing, and badly executed plot made it a disappointment.

I think this is another case of highly publicized book that is only hype.
Profile Image for Maciek.
567 reviews3,410 followers
December 30, 2010
Having never heard of Lev Grossman I picked up two of his novels at the thrift store, basing solely on the premises from the back covers - Codex and The Magicians. I decided to read The Magicians first, because Grossman's first two books have both been bombs - Warp vanished without a trace, and Codex received largely negative reviews. But The Magicians was a huge success, so it couldn't be all that bad, right? After my admiration for Peter Straub's Shadowland (which deals with roughly the same topic, but is a far, far superior work) I was all set-up and full of expectations.

The Magicians failed to meet any of them. I found this novel to be largely tedious and uninteresting. Here are several reasons why:

1)The incredible amount of exposition and absolute lack of detail. Grossman spends page after page TELLING how his hero, Quentin, is learning magic but he never shows it. Part of the incredible allure of fantasy novels is the detailed construction of alternate worlds/universes; there's nothing like that here. Everything is extremely flat and without any flair of ,let's say, Hogwarts; where the reader can see for himself how unique magic really is - in vivid detail.
Even the Fillory books - fantasy novels which Quentin is a fan of - are special because Grossman tells us they are special. It's as he distrusted his readers and had to tell them everything - hence the reader plods on, and never cares about the characters and setting whose features and qualities are forced upon him.

2) The book is extremely DERIVATIVE. It's as if after the failure of his first two novels Grossman decided to "borrow" the tropes of well known fantasy works (most notably Harry Potter and Narnia) and base his story around other people's accomplishments. Consider:
A group of teenagers receive invitations to attend a school of magic, which is housed in a decaying gohtic castle, located just a few hours from a major metropolitan area. The castle is hiddent from public view by powerfull illusion spells and is governed by a childlike, yet powerful white bearded authority figure, who also happens to have a magical map showing where anyone is at any given moment. The process of learning magic turns out to be mostly tedious memorizing incantations and learning proper inflection. The school adapts a British educational system and is full of quirky effects, like disappearing doors.
The Fillory is a magical land entered through a clock where "Sons and Daughters of Earth" fight evil to become the royalty.
How is it possible to steal so many ideas and not get sued?

3) The book is full of filler. Grossman clammed 5 years of magical school (4 for some) and then squeezed adventures after the school (which include travelling into the world of Fillory) on 400 pages...most of which consist of students swearing, having sex, drinking booze and acting like pricks Grossman devised them to be. But everything is touched only on the surface; there's simply no room for anything to develop. Too much is trying to go on on a space too small - and that's why there's so little detail and so much exposition. It's almost as if we were presented with a summary of Quentin's struggle through magical school and his life after it.

4)The work is extremely self-indulgent. Grossman comes from an academic family and is a Harvard alumni (where he got a degree in comparative literature), currently holding a job of a reviewer at TIME magazine.
This is not a man with an original vision (how many original ideas are there in The Magicians andyway? I counted two) who chose to express it on paper; we are unfortunatelly dealing with the case of a pretentious academic who considers himself above the genre he chose to write in, and who has produced a sour and joyless (and ultimately pointless) exercise in this very genre, designed especially for people just like him. Since Less Than Zero already came out 20 years ago he decided to use storylines and themes from famous fantasy works to sell his product and disguise his lack of originality.
Much of Fantasy literature is didactic in nature. Young people can learn how to be a better human being, how to be brave in face of grave danger, to appreciate frienship and learn to be selfless when the situation requires it.
There is nothing to learn in The Magicians. While the disilusion in Less Than Zero worked, it doesn't work here because the protagonist is a self-pityng, self-oriented miserable teenager simply because Grossman forced him to be one. Quentin is not happy before enrolling at magical school, he's not happy at the school and he's not happy after the school. He hooks up with the hot girl, but is not happy with her so she sleeps with someone else - then he's even more not happy. Quentin starts out as a selfish bastard, migrates into an even more selfish bastard and ends up after four hundred pages - yeah, you guessed it - as a selfish bastard. Grossman never once allowes Quentin to take his head out of his (Quentin's, not Grossman's) ass to see the wonder he was allowed to experience, but instead forces him to be a smug and miserable selfish asshole to the very end, to illustrate his disilussion with the magical world because he decided that the protagonist will be disilusioned, no matter what he will see there (To his credit: he didn't even try to present much). In Grossman's world (both fantasy and magical) everything is forced upon the reader, including his message - it's rather simple, but the reader is forced to undergo great pains to arrive at the conclusion that is painfully obvious from the very beginning.

If you want to be bored and depressed simply because the author bores you and tells you to be depressed, you might get something from The Magicians. If you're looking for "realistic" and "adult" protagonists who are said to posess these qualities simply because they are all selfish, drink alcohol and swear and have sex this might be your thing. If you think that the novel will offer an unique take on the loss of innocence in a magical world, you might be disappointed - our heroes could have been plumbers and hygiene technicians, and Grossman still would ram his point home. (THERE IS NO HOPE, GET IT? NONE, ZERO, NADA, WHY? BECAUSE I SAID SO!)
This is a classic case of a pretentious navel-gazer, completely self-indulgent which smacks the reader in the face with its hopelesness and whining again and again and again. This emperor is naked as jay, and offers cliched insights masquerading as deeper truths covered by ideas of other (and better) authors. These insights are explored as superficially as possible, and in an adult way - with lots of booze, sex and swearing - so I sense some BIG PRIZE lurking around the corner, waiting for this very novel. After all, adults give these awards.
Kids know better.
May 22, 2018

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DNF @ 36%

Mastubatory fantasy for the disaffected intellectual who thinks Harry Potter needs less friendship and more Ayn Rand and Bret Easton Ellis. If the idea of reading about a bunch of self-congratulatory little assholes learning magic appeals to you, then by all means, pick up THE MAGICIANS.

I should point out that my qualm itself is less about the characters and more about the stilted writing and the lazy portrayal in which they are framed. I can handle unlikable, morally grey protagonists - just don't bore me.

1 to 1.5 stars
Profile Image for Stefan.
408 reviews167 followers
February 16, 2015
The Magicians by Lev Grossman is one of the most frequently reviewed fantasy novels of the last few years, which isn’t surprising because the author is a well known writer (and book reviewer) for TIME Magazine, and the book was very effectively hyped as “Harry Potter with college age students.” The end result of all of this is that lots of people who don’t regularly read fantasy have picked up this novel, and many of them had their expectations severely challenged. So, is The Magicians also worth the time for true-blooded, die-hard fantasy fans? In a word: yes.

Read the entire review on my site Far Beyond Reality!
Profile Image for Victoria Schwab.
Author 33 books104k followers
June 12, 2011
SO conflicted. Moments where I loved the WRITING, but others where I kind of wanted to stab the book in the heart. Maybe that's a sign of a great book, though.
Profile Image for Jack.
Author 4 books133 followers
January 20, 2018
Quick...raise your hand if can answer yes to the following questions;

Have you ever read a book and wished you could visit (or just permanently relocate) to the place/timeframe in question?

Or, more importantly, do you feel out of place in this world of celebrity worship, rampant consumerism, confusing national conflicts, and the death of common sense?

Is your hand raised? Yeah, mine is too.

Glad we are all in the same boat. But, is it any surprise that we are all of similar mind? We are all here on Goodreads because of our love of books. I think, more than any other medium, books can instill in us a great desire to be somewhere else. Or to be SOMEONE else. To inhabit a world that isn't THIS one. Escapism is one the main functions of fiction novels, and is something that even a modestly written book can accomplish.

The Magicians poses those questions to main character Quentin Coldwater, though how those questions get resolved happens in ways that aren't quite what we as readers are used to. This is a challenging and somewhat subversive book, and certainly isn't going to be everyone's cup of tea. Oh, and it's not modestly written at all. Lev Grossman has a serious knack for the English language, and dusts off some great words, using them to full, obscure effect. Don't let that fool you though, these aren't big words for the sake of big words. Mr. Grossman weaves a spellbinding narrative, and I thoroughly enjoyed what he put to page.

This was a buddy read with my Goodreads friend and partner in magical crime, Mary. While my review may be too rambling or long, hers is totally on point and perfectly stated. Also, though we started the book at the same time, I believe she cast a comprehension spell and an accelerated sensory intake spell, as she finished the book WELL before me. Show off... :-)

As for the review, aside from some quotes, I prefer to practice spoiler avoidance, and try to keep things vague to hide specific details.

I get the divisive reviews on this one. I really really do. The Magicians almost gleefully roasts Harry Potter at times, exalts Narnia while at the same time pointing out the inherent flaws, and never really defines magic in any true sense. Nothing is really black & white, and nothing is as it seems. Brakebills college is more like a traditional books & pens university than Hogwarts, and most of the faculty have been doing their jobs for so long they are getting burned out and snippy. The tone jumps tracks from narcissistic, nihilistic, aloof, and a little arrogant, while at times being humorous, whimsical and beautiful. Did I mention humorous?

"Josh speculated about the hypothetical contents of an imaginary porn magazine for intelligent trees that would be entitled Enthouse."

Yeah, like that.

But yeah, as for the middling reviews, I do get it. It's not necessarily the easiest, or happiest, of reads.

And the protagonist...he's not exactly what you'd expect from someone who finds out magic is real. As a main character, Quentin comes across as somewhat underwhelming and...well...whiny. He's a rather unhappy individual, feeling out of place and generally let down by what life has to offer. He's smart but depressed, though he might not realize that he is.

"He was used to this anticlimactic feeling, where by the time you've done all the work to get something you don't even want it anymore. He had it all the time. It was one of the few things he could depend on."

He's not the traditional "hero" of a magical tale, as he's not necessarily "good". I will say that his heart is in the right place, to be sure, but he doesn't always stick the "good guy" landing. He can be petty, cruel, and insensitive. He's also young and inexperienced, which tends to exacerbate those negative qualities. But honestly, haven't we all been those same things, at least a few times in our lives? Especially as teenagers/young adults? And while his negative aspects might have been a little much, I found that I could relate to him most of the time. As a somewhat awkward and introverted guy, he's fascinated by the opposite sex, to the point where he tends to fall (soft or hard) for anything with breasts. It's at times comical, annoying, and slightly pathetic. Still, it's generally a puppy-like infatuation, not a "serial killer" obsession level. He knows he's good at school, and he knows that academia is great in practical terms, but isn't winning him any accolades in his social life.

"He wasn't used to being outclassed in the classroom."

He's also almost painfully honest with himself, in his inner musings. It was rare to see a character with so much honest self-awareness. He thinks a particularly unhealthy thought, then gets ashamed at himself for thinking it. But then he gets upset with his friends since he's the only one who thought it, and they didn't stoop to his level with him. While I didn't agree with everything going on in Quentin's head, he had a remarkable clarity when it came to his own behavior.

And while this is Quentin's tale, he is surrounded by a varied cast of characters that give the book needed depth. And like any group of friends/acquaintances, the cast is a mixed bag. There's the overachiever, the quiet but competent girl, the boisterous show-off, the misunderstood one, and everything in between. They are people from all walks of life and from varied backgrounds, thrown together by their ability to learn and cast magic. Again, while they mean well, they aren't perfect people. In this tale, those who have the ability to become magicians aren't necessarily the most socially adjusted people out there. As with any group dynamic, things are good until they aren't, happy until they aren't, and safe...until they aren't. I rather enjoyed the diverse cast of support characters, even though I was annoyed by some and felt sorry for others. The interpersonal relationships are handled in an honest fashion; they are unpredictable, occasionally messy, sometimes rewarded, and generally very complicated.

But what about the magic in The Magicians you ask? Well, that's a mixed bag to be sure. And a very difficult question to answer.

"You'll be dealing with your equals for the first time in your life, and your betters. You won't like it. The work is different, too. It's not what you think. You don't just wave a wand and yell some made-up Latin. There's reasons why most people can't do it."

Yes, this isn't magic for youngsters. It's not as easy as learning a word and a gesture. There's so much that goes into it; the phase of the moon, the seasons, gender, mood, etc. It's difficult to grasp, even more difficult to master, and while it can become second nature, it's never easy. Magic comes at a cost. If you like your magic grounded, with rules and little ambiguity (a la Sanderson or Jordan), this type of magical free-for-all will be hard to accept. Almost anything is possible, and there's no clear definition as to where the magic actually comes from.

In this world, magic almost feels more like a "thing" than a sense or a feeling. It's a tool and/or a weapon, and like physical tools or weapons, how magic is used is entirely up to the person using it. There are no "good" or "evil" spells. Nothing is forbidden. That's actually a difficult pill to swallow with this book. Absolute power is simply...there. Ripe for the taking, if the person devotes some time to it. And while there is an initial screening process for future magicians, it's done at a basic level. It would be like taking 50 random teenagers of no particular moral standing, putting them through some basic weapons safety courses, and then handing them explosives, napalm, and untraceable automatic weapons & plenty of ammunition, and then setting them loose into the world. What will they do with them? Are they even equipped for the responsibility of having these weapons? This was a hard sell for me, as I had a difficult time believing that there was little to no oversight for these incredibly talented and potentially dangerous magicians.

"But I'll tell you something. I think you're magicians because you're unhappy. A magician is strong because he feels pain. He feels the difference between what the world is, and what he would make of it."

I think this book asks two very difficult questions, questions that we are generally used to asking in real life, but not so readily equipped to deal with when posed by a book. And these questions are;

What if?


Then what (aka what next)?

In most books, the hero/protagonist/POV character/s generally have a big event happen to them, spend half of the book researching/asking questions/training, and then go forth and conquer whatever it is that became their quest. But...what if? What if, at the end of the training & inevitable stumbling when learning something new vastly complex, there wasn't a clear path laid out? What if there wasn't some quest just sitting there waiting to be undertaken? What if there wasn't a big bad waiting to be slain? What if magic can't magically fix everything? (hint: it can't). What if, like in the real world, nothing was really spelled out (magic pun!), and you had to forge your own path? I compare it to graduating college. Some people graduate with a clear direction in mind, a clear profession they are pursuing, and they continue along that path without interruption. But, just as many people graduate college, have their shiny new degree in hand, are smarter and more equipped than when they started, and then they...kind of hit a wall. Their time and focus was devoted to learning & graduating, to going that extra mile, to proving to themselves that they could do it. And, then they did it and it's done...and they have no idea what to do next.

"So why did Quentin feel like he was looking around frantically for another way out? Why was he still waiting for some grand adventure to come and find him? He was drowning - why did he recoil whenever anybody reached down to help him? The professors Quentin talked to about it didn't seem concerned at all. They didn't get what the problem was. What should he do? Why, anything he wanted to!"

This leads to the "then what" question. When you've learned all that Brakebills can teach about magic, what's next? Again, there's no "right" or clear-cut answer. It's open to interpretation, and depends entirely on the personality and mindset of the person in question. You could go up to a hundred random people, and ask them "what next?", and you'd get almost a hundred unique answers. The Magicians poses this question in a big way with Quentin, since he's kind of an aimless dreamer to begin with who constantly daydreams about being in the fictional, and heavily Narnia-esque, land of Fillory. And the answer, in the book, is exasperating and frustrating. It's like seeing a gifted friend or child just coast through life instead of applying themselves. You just KNOW they could do better, could rock the world, but they just won't do it, and no amount of poking and prodding will inspire them. This is a guy who comes to realize that magic is real, that he can cast it, and has been accepted into a school that can teach him all the vagaries of this new world he's stumbled into. A dream come true, right? It is...and yet it isn't. Being a magician doesn't suddenly make everything ok. Mo money, mo problems. It's the inherent curse of mankind...we are hardly ever happy with things as they are. Once we have something we coveted, it can start to lose its luster. While reading The Magicians, I frequently thought of the musical "Into The Woods" (both the original and the Hollywood remake). It also dared to ask, and answer, the question of "what next?". What happens AFTER the happily ever after?

Ultimately, I think you'll get the most out of The Magicians if you don't go in expecting the next YA magical adventure where everything is laid out and easy to follow. This is a challenging book, certainly geared towards adults, and sometimes striking low blows at beloved classics, while at the same time telling a conventional "coming of age" story in a very unconventional way. It can be plodding at times, meanders a bit in the middle, and provides no easy answers to some of the questions it poses. It does, however, end on a slight ray of hope, which I wasn't expecting. I will certainly read the next books (eventually, so many new TBR's are calling my name).
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