Mike (the Paladin)'s Reviews > The Magicians

The Magicians by Lev Grossman
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's review
Sep 16, 2010

it was ok
bookshelves: fantasy, urban-fantasy

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.

(view spoiler)

(view spoiler)

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.
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Reading Progress

September 16, 2010 – Started Reading
September 16, 2010 – Shelved
Finished Reading
November 26, 2010 – Shelved as: fantasy
November 26, 2010 – Shelved as: urban-fantasy

Comments (showing 1-50 of 84) (84 new)

Dawn I'll be interested to see what you think of this! I'm currently reading it too, and am really liking it so far.

Mike (the Paladin) It's "just moved" to my currently reading stack, I hope to get it opened up in the next couple of days. I'll watch for your thoughts also.

Stephen Mike -
Given your dislike of "downer" novels, I would expect this to be one you would avoid. All of the reviews I have read say this is a dark, depressing story (though very well written). I am curious to see what you think as it is on my TBR list as well.

Dawn I'm not offended at all, you like what you like! I'm not even sure why I liked this one as much as I did. When I think back, I can't come up with any concrete reasons that I enjoyed it... I just did. Not for everyone, but it's still short enough that it's at least worth a try!

message 5: by Mike (the Paladin) (last edited Sep 22, 2010 04:13PM) (new) - rated it 2 stars

Mike (the Paladin) I felt that way about the novel I mentioned above, Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell. I just enjoyed the world so to speak.

Another thing that kept occurring to me as I read Magicians was, am I the only person left in the world who doesn't regard the word "f**k" as a normal part of accepted social interaction? There are a certain group of writers who seem to think the "everyone" simply spouts this word as a common part of their conversation. I can only assume they do, but I'm still one of those naive beings who assumes that needing to express oneself with obscenities simply reflects poorly on the user. Am I hopelessly behind the times?

By the way...even if I am, I don't intend to begin using it.

Actually I've had "acquaintances" Quentin and his friends remind me of. College "kids" who never grew up.

message 6: by Othy (new)

Othy I very much appreciate your review. I only got through the first fifty pages and was worried that I was stopping too soon. Not enough people say what you do about society in general and particularly my generation (late 20s). I appreciate particularly your comment:

"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."

Thank you for writing it; more people need to hear this.

message 7: by Keilani (new)

Keilani Ludlow Thanks Mike for your review. I was kind of leaning away from the book after reading other reviews, but your comment on the F word did it for me. If an author can't write a book with more inventive (and realistic) language, I'm not interested. Like
you said, not everyone uses that word all the time. In fact, no one that I know uses that word in daily conversation. Maybe when they hit their thumb with a hammer.

message 8: by Marina (new)

Marina Fontaine Thanks for saving me from spending time on this one. A friend at the office recommended it to me, but I had doubts after seeing some Amazon reviews. Now I'm glad I never got into it.

Chrystal Spot on review. Exactly how I felt about it. The main character is worthless, self-absorbed hipster emo, without the interesting aspects of being a hipster emo, ha ha.

[Name Redacted] I really agree with your take on this book. People have a bewildering habit of mistaking "pointlessly angst-ridden" and "adolescent" for "adult" and "mature". The approach, the ideas, the characters -- these are the marks of someone who childishly mistakes the former for the latter.

[Name Redacted] I'd also argue that this isn't truly dark or depressing, because there's no real emotional connection at any point. Not between the author and the characters, not between the author and the readers, and not between the characters and the readers. Things happen to unpleasant people; for people with a taste for Schadenfreude, that might be enough.

Chrystal Exactly :).

Mike (the Paladin) I suppose. I have several Goodreads friends who love this one.

Oh well, taste.

message 14: by Jeremy (new) - added it

Jeremy I had been looking at this book, and barely decided not to add it to my to-read list. This review only reenforces that opinion, since I usually agree with you. :)

colleen the convivial curmudgeon If I could like comments, I would like both of Ian's.

Rachel It depends on where you live. Here in Ireland we use the word fuck indiscriminately and without asterixes, but Canadian and American people I work with have expressed shock at how often I use it. I do so unthinkingly. So the key may be geography rather than generation. However I personally think it should be limited to dialogue rather than the body of the prose. Otherwise it's just a lazy way of flagging the seriousness of whatever action is taking place. Grossman does that a lot.

message 17: by Jeremy (new) - added it

Jeremy Rachel wrote: "It depends on where you live. Here in Ireland we use the word **** indiscriminately and without asterixes, but Canadian and American people I work with have expressed shock at how often I use it. I..."

:P I just don't see much of a reason for the use of curse words - why do names for sex and human waste appear in so many of our conversations on other things?

[Name Redacted] Because we are lazy and don't bother to articulate our feelings in any other way.

Jelena Raguz Mike, have you tried reading the sequel? It goes deeper into the first book and from what I remember it ends well, so no "life sucks and then you die" feel this time.

Mike (the Paladin) No. This one left me a little cold so I didn't move on. Doubt I will, but you never know.

Tracy I really enjoyed this review and the comments. I have been trying to convey why I didn't enjoy this book and I have been coming up short but this review and the comments hit the nail on the head. There is no emotional connections in the book nor a place to develop them. The book is no different than reading some college kids blog and you wind up not caring what happens to anyone in the story.

message 22: by A. (new) - rated it 2 stars

A. Marie Reading the book now, I have to agree with you. In my opinion the characters aren't likeable and don't give me a reason to like either of them.

[Name Redacted] I love it when people say "But you're not supposed to like the characters! That's the point!" Honestly, the real world is FULL of miserable, unlikeable people and i do my best to avoid them; why would i want to invite them into my brain and spend my few leisure hours reading about them?

Mike (the Paladin) I've run on several books like that...

Maddie This book made me miserable. I honestly got really depressed every time I read it.

Kelly W Mike, you've perfectly captured my own feelings/reaction to this book.

I did try reading the sequel, as I really wanted to like this book (the setup of a person yearning for magic and adventure, a character that had a lot of room to learn and grow, and an amazing magical world to play in - all could have become something excellent), so I gave the sequel a chance. But no go. It just gets worse, in my opinion.

message 27: by Kimberley (last edited Jun 12, 2012 06:42PM) (new) - rated it 1 star

Kimberley Aww, I just read the first chapter, I should have paid attention to the three stars and the fact that the library actually had it to lend electronically. Hopefully I will end up closer to Dawn's views then Mike's...we will see, I can't stop now :-)

Mike (the Paladin) On the bright side I didn't take any permanent damage...I don't think.

message 29: by Dono (new) - rated it 1 star

Dono West Mike,
the thoughts you expressed on this book precisely mirror my own; I couldn't have said it better. To say I felt vaguely disturbed when I read it would be accurate, if understated. I read the sequel as well just to see how the plot developed. It carried much the same tone with little resolution in the end. It seemed as if the author recognized that people would want some sort of uplifting ending but failed to come to the same conclusion within himself in terms of his worldviews.

Over all, I felt like Lev Grossman took one of my deepest, most nostalgic childhood experiences of fantasy (Narnia) and distorted them into an immature, kid-adult world made for those that have lost hope in their own realities to such an extent that not even fantasy holds any allure.

"Harry Potter for adults." Hardly.

Mike (the Paladin) Agree. I mentioned above that when I picked this book up I was under the impression it was a "stand alone". I didn't follow it up and don't really plan to. I have a "to be read list" that I'll probably never get through anyway (LOL).

message 31: by Laura (new)

Laura Leydes I was going to buy this but now i won't. Thanks for the review. I also hate downer books.

Mike (the Paladin) They're not my favorite either. I've said, I live in real life, I don't need "life is crap and then you die" in my leisure time reading. :)

❄Allison❄ I was planning to read this, but I'm glad I read your review first. It doesn't sound at all like something I would enjoy reading.

Mike (the Paladin) I have some friends here who really like it, but in a way I was being generous with the 2 star, at least for my taste. It has a couple of positives I suppose but over all, I didn't care for it.

❄Allison❄ "I live in real life, I don't need "life is crap and then you die" in my leisure time reading."

This is exactly what I feel about reading, and that's why I'm just going to trust your opinion on this one!

Caroline In my opinion, I think the "Harry Potter for adults" description means this book/series is Harry Potter meets hard reality. I am a huge, huge fan of the HP books, but that is an overall hopeful, charming, and uplifting series. I think with The Magicians, Grossman shows the other side of the coin--the magical world ain't all that. Being a magician ain't all that. Magicians themselves aren't perfect. They are human (and in Grossman's magical world they live among non-magicians) and therefore are flawed. Whereas the magicians in Harry Potter feel untouchable, Grossman's magicians are the opposite; their flaws (namely alcoholism and laziness) make them relatable. What I took away from this book is that Grossman is portraying the disillusionment of these young, very gifted magicians who are on their way to becoming something great. I personally felt the depressive tone but didn't internalize it to the point of feeling depressed, if that makes sense. So I didn't find this book to be a downer at all. I appreciate Grossman's jaded take on the magical world. There's a lot of fantasy literature out there about magicians, but this book is unique in its cynical approach. How often does it happen in life that the reality isn't as great as we thought it would be? As for the magicians' excessive drinking, I chalked that up to them A) each having some deep dysfunctions (and each character does have big issues) and B) their disillusionment, which as I said, is the theme of the whole book. Finally, I just want to say that regarding the curse words, I noticed too that Grossman does use them more than most authors I read, but I viewed it as a very conscious choice on his part rather than laziness. Grossman is a writer for Time magazine; he certainly is not a lazy writer. In The Magicians, he is writing in the tone or "voice," If you will, of a bunch of disillusioned, crass young magicians. In the sequel to The Magicians, in the chapters about Julia, Grossman writes in a tone that mirrors Julia--so there is a certain rhythm to the sentences and crude, jaded word choice. You can really feel how edgy a person she is. I think Grossman is very careful to make sure that the particular words and tones he chooses reinforce the message he is conveying and the character he's creating.

message 37: by Mike (the Paladin) (last edited Sep 21, 2012 08:16PM) (new) - rated it 2 stars

Mike (the Paladin) Fine we can agree to disagree. Tastes differ and so do opinions. The book will speak to different readers differently. The above is my review and what I think. I understand that if you like the book a negative review isn't what you like to read, I've been there with books I like (or love). Still I must stand by my review. I'm glad you like the book, please enjoy, but it's not one I like or can really recommend.

It's a literary to each their own I suppose. :)

message 38: by Janine (new)

Janine "So, please don't be insulted that we disagree here." => LoL - Who get's offended if you haven't the same opinion? -> Dictators, Conformists, Fanatics -> I would quit friendship if one of my friends would say that sentence to me ...

message 39: by Jeremy (new) - added it

Jeremy Janine wrote: "Dictators, Conformists, Fanatics -> I would quit friendship if one of my friends would say that sentence to me ... "

I don't know, I might like being friends with a dictator. Free stuff and all.

Mike (the Paladin) Not. I thought out my opinion and I give you credit for the same. I may disagree, but this is a piece of fiction that will speak to different readers in different ways. There are differences in how I may think about a book as opposed to how I feel about a book.

So as I said, to each.

message 41: by Janine (new)

Janine LazerWraith wrote: "Janine wrote: "Dictators, Conformists, Fanatics -> I would quit friendship if one of my friends would say that sentence to me ... "

I don't know, I might like being friends with a dictator. Free s..."

You would be the dictator in that scenario ... not your friend ... that's the insulting part ...

I try to explain it again. Sorry my english sucks.

I believe discussing and debating with friends is nice. You can laugh and learn and sharp your wit.
It is good to discuss something with someone who has a different opinion.

If some of my friends would say "don't be insulted that we disagree" I would interpret this, that he thinks I would be insulted that he disagrees with me. So I would be insulted that he would think that I'm a person who would be insulted if someone disagrees with me.

Ok ... I'm sure that comment made my point clear. (Last sentence was sarcasm, the rest not.)

message 42: by Jeremy (new) - added it

Jeremy I'm insulted that you had to explain you would be insulted that he would think that your a person who would be insulted if someone disagrees with you!

:P Just kidding.

Mike (the Paladin) ....you're insulted, I'm just confused.

message 44: by Marina (new)

Marina Fontaine Janine- If you don't think people get insulted when you disagree about a book review, just do the following. Go to a crowded place, like a mall at Christmastime and yell out (your choice):

Twilight Sucks!


Twilight Rocks!

Then- run.

[Name Redacted] Mike (the Paladin) wrote: "....you're insulted, I'm just confused."

At least the full force of Godwin's Law hasn't been invoked yet!

Mike (the Paladin) Wonder who will first bring "you know what up" what analogy about who will be used?

(view spoiler)

Katya Mike (the Paladin) I totally and completely agree with your assesment and am grateful to you for saying it. Nonetheless I liked the book even as I disliked it. I think that the reasons I like it are 1. I just enjoy the metafictional excitement of interacting with characters who interact with books that I love and 2. reading between the lines I appreciate the self-diagnosis that the author and his characters are making - the same diagnosis that you make. I like that by showing how depressed the characters are in their disillusionment he and they seem to acknowledge that what they are yearning for so deeply - Narnia and it's depiction of a world infused by innocence, joy, meaning, beauty and God - is something very important - something worth yearning for. I guess I liked it because it reminded me of being at a very cynical and disillusioned sort of college and I enjoyed the fantasy of hearing some of those old classmates of mine actually admit that they yearned for Narnia the way I did. In my mind that's like the first step towards some kind of salvation. At the time, when I was a young college student I thought that they were all right - that they were smarter and more sophisticated than I was. Now looking back it may very well have been true that they were smarter and more sophisticated, but I can also see them as being hurting children who were sneering and whining because they were in pain over having the possibility of God and innocence and goodness yanked away from them or never offered to them in the first place. Still in the early stages of disillusionment and having tantrums about it because they're not totally ready to accept it yet and sink into the banality of resignation.

Mike (the Paladin) Thanks Katya. I can understand (and even identify with) both liking and disliking a book at the same time. Not so for me on this one, but I have been there. This one just had such an overlay of (I suppose) "jadedness" for me. It had an unintentional sadness atop the intended variety.

But then I've already reviewed it above so I don't need to go into it again, LOL.

Cynthisa I liked the message of this book (that magic doesn't equal happiness by any means) and was able to give it 3 stars easily. But, I agree that the nihilism/depression of the main characters and the lack of an emotional through-line (well, lack of a POSITIVE emotion as depression is also an emotion -- just not one that makes me WANT to spend hours and hours reaing about!) makes this book challenging. It is NOT rewarding in that sense. But, I felt it WAS rewarding in a deeper sense, if the reader is willing to dig a bit deeper and wrestle around with it. So, in the end I kind of admired this author for NOT taking the "easy" way out with his characters! (i.e., the Neville Bottom phenomenon -- magic turns weak snivvely kds into brave heroic hunks!) (Oh, yes, and magicians never use the "f-word" or any other unwholesome swear words! Please!)

message 50: by Mike (the Paladin) (last edited Jan 22, 2014 11:05AM) (new) - rated it 2 stars

Mike (the Paladin) Look I don't want to argue with you. You went somewhere that annoys me when I have to deal with it and that is the idea that "I" and "other readers" who dislike this book just "didn't get it". We "didn't go deep enough" or "We didn't wrestle with" it's complexities.

As for my comment on language, I didn't say magicians never drop F bombs. I pointed out a tendency to throw it around for no apparent reason other than to lean on it or to "shock".

I assume you were referring to Neville Longbottom above this again implying a shallow understanding of the book.

Sorry, you're wrong...I get it. I just don't care for it. It is nihilistic. It is also at least seemingly (as I said above) a bit of a sneer at the stories he's using as a springboard.

I've said this before but I'll say it again. There is a prevalent attitude that to be "good" a book must be negative and somewhat (to use the same word again) nihilistic. But a constant use of negativity can be as big a failing as constant positiveness. Depressing for depressing's sake is or can be pointless.

All that said, I get that you like book. I'm happy for you, enjoy. But everyone who disagrees with you isn't just too shallow to get it.

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