Mark Lawrence's Reviews > The Magicians

The Magicians by Lev Grossman
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it was amazing

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 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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Reading Progress

May 15, 2018 – Started Reading
May 15, 2018 – Shelved
May 15, 2018 –
page 35
8.71% "Well, the first 10% is excellent.

I wonder why the book has such a low average rating? Perhaps it nosedives..."
May 23, 2018 –
page 278
69.15% "I've seen a lot of talk about Quentin being an unsympathetic protagonist ... but I'm not really seeing it myself. He isn't heroically saving everyone but then again there's nothing to save anyone from yet. He just seems like ... a guy.

Anyway, I'm enjoying the book. It's not exciting but it is interesting and very well written. Great prose and observation.

Still waiting to find out why wizards don't rule the world."
May 25, 2018 – Finished Reading

Comments Showing 1-23 of 23 (23 new)

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message 1: by Ellie (new) - added it

Ellie Henn The blurb seems to say what appears to be quite a lot about the story, are you finding that is the case so far? I did initially like the look of this based on the first two paragraphs of the description but I feel like the rest of the description might have given away the whole storyline?


Mark Lawrence Ellie wrote: "The blurb seems to say what appears to be quite a lot about the story, are you finding that is the case so far? I did initially like the look of this based on the first two paragraphs of the descri..."

I never read the blurbs on books. Often the author doesn't get much say in what is written there.


message 3: by Ellie (new) - added it

Ellie Henn Ah OK, but then how do you get a feel for what the book is about?
By blurb, in this case, I meant the Goodreads description.


Mark Lawrence Ellie wrote: "Ah OK, but then how do you get a feel for what the book is about?
By blurb, in this case, I meant the Goodreads description."


I don't get a feel for what the book is about. I just read it. What it's about very rarely has any bearing at all on whether it is a good read.


Ella I really enjoyed the dark tones of the novel, and the focus on the characters’ imperfect personalities, their mistakes and their consequences. Wish we had a bit more on the wizard school though! And you describe it perfectly, Narnia+ Harry Potter for adults! Will you continue the series?


Mark Lawrence Ella wrote: "I really enjoyed the dark tones of the novel, and the focus on the characters’ imperfect personalities, their mistakes and their consequences. Wish we had a bit more on the wizard school though! An..."

I have no strong motivation to continue, other than for the good writing. It was fairly self contained.

I don't get through many books in a year and I generally try to read many different authors rather than lots of any given author, however good.


Djerri Nuijen I completely agree with you! I was swept up by the quick pase in both the sentences and plot. I would highly recommend you read the trilogy, especially the second book is even better that the first.


Djerri Nuijen And it takes the "kids go to Narnia" premise to a very interesting place.


message 9: by Picasso (new) - added it

Picasso I started reading it like a year ago, and stopped after 30 pages in (just got sidetracked by other books). I am definitely gonna pick it up again :)


message 10: by Sandy (new)

Sandy Morley I'd heard so many negative opinions on this that, twinned with the "Harry Potter for grownups" tag, I'd almost written it off. Thanks for reminding me why I considered it in the first place!


message 11: by Bibliyohan (new) - added it

Bibliyohan Blackthorn ➰ I'm sold! *excited grin as I click on that green button*


Sasan Shabrou this is probably the best review i've ever read for this book.


Joanne This is one of the best series I have read in the past year
Kept me up all night more than once. The world building and the characters evolving we're top notch.


message 14: by Mary (new) - added it

Mary S. R. I love your reviews! I actually saw it in the bookstore a couple of times and said I'd buy it next time and I never did! Butttt now I'm definitely buying it :)


message 15: by Alain (new)

Alain Ok, I'll give this a try now, if just to prepare for the the live-action adaptation arriving on TV this year(?)


Matthew Zorich Loved this book!


Fabio Ticconi Magnificent review. And great books - I loved them too :)


Mark Lawrence Alain wrote: "Ok, I'll give this a try now, if just to prepare for the the live-action adaptation arriving on TV this year(?)"

I thought the TV series had been out for years and was now several seasons old?


message 19: by K (new) - rated it 2 stars

K D Three seasons on Netflix....


message 20: by Miguel (new)

Miguel Lopa I love your work and to see you review this book that I love is too awesome!! Goodreads is the shit!!!!!!


Allie Gerschwiler Have you read the whole trilogy? And now I need a review of the TV show, this review of the book was so good. ☺️


Mark Lawrence Allie wrote: "Have you read the whole trilogy? And now I need a review of the TV show, this review of the book was so good. ☺️"

Not yet. Lots of books to read!


message 23: by Thush (new) - added it

Thush Narnia but with drunk, messed up, twenty one year old magicians? 😂 Yes please!


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