David Katzman's Reviews > The Magicians

The Magicians by Lev Grossman
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's review
Apr 02, 2012

it was amazing
Recommended for: Anyone. Anyone. Anyone

This book was just amazing. I loved every sentence of it. Was it perfect? No, not absolutely perfect. A few trivial elements bothered me but none of them were significant enough to detract from the beauty of the writing, the sophistication of the story, and the convincing world built by Lev Grossman.*

For the uninitiated, the premise of this book is nothing new in fantasy. A young man in our real world/reality discovers magic is real when he is tracked down and invited to attend a magic university. The story follows him through his experience at college (which Grossman envisions like the most exclusive Ivy League school for the rich) and then after graduation. Really, I don’t even like coming of age stories! But I could not. Put. The Magicians. Down.

I suppose some call this urban fantasy. No doubt it has elements of many fantasy novels incorporated—from Harry Potter to C.S. Lewis to Alice in Wonderland. But Grossman weaves them together with enough original ideas to create something utterly unique. And his writing! Such well-crafted sentences and paragraphs. I wasn’t let down even once. Dare I say it? I found it glorious.

Do not mistake this for Young Adult. Sex, swearing, and some nasty violence (wait, violence is okay for kids these days, isn’t it? It’s just the sex they’re not allowed to see) are all part of Quentin’s believable (yes, believable) life. He felt absolutely like a real person to me. It's not quite Charles Bukowski does fantasy ... it's closer to China Miéville re-writes Harry Potter. Juicy.

Here’s my highest praise. I’m going to run out and buy the sequel from my local bookseller this week. Fingers crossed …

*Okay, there were two typos.
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Reading Progress

April 2, 2012 – Started Reading
April 2, 2012 – Shelved
April 6, 2012 – Finished Reading

Comments (showing 1-16 of 16) (16 new)

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notgettingenough I dunno, David. You are twisting my arm here. Even after the typos admission.

message 2: by David (last edited Apr 11, 2012 08:58AM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

David Katzman I glanced at the reviews after I wrote this without reading them in depth. It seems to split people love it or hate it. I don't know if I'm biased because I never read Harry Potter. Some thought it was a parody! I did not see that at all. I saw an author who decided to take expected fantasy tropes and turn them into real human struggles. Applying emotional realism you could say to unrealistic situations. Other people seemed to dislike the main character. Well, so what? I didn't like him but I related to his struggles and even when I didn't relate to them they felt believable to me. Honest, awkward, shameful issues.

I'm always surprised when a mainstream book has typos. I remember one of the typos was a missing "to." Oh well, I forgive.

Overall, I just really loved his writing.

Hilary Love your review - I'm going to borrow this one from my man shortly.

David Katzman Do it! Irresistible. (And thank you.)

Hilary I certainly shall :) I found that Barnes & Noble has a book that compiles all of Flann O'Brien's novels so I'll probably be grabbing that soon, too. ;)

Also, I've heard mixed reviews of At Swim, Two Boys. Every time I see it I'm tempted to read it, but... couldn't be as good as At-Swim-Two-Birds. I fear I'd be setting myself up for disappointment.

David Katzman How odd. I never heard of it, but a cursory examination of the GR page for that book gives the impression that it's not humorous in any fashion ... making it a very peculiar homage to O'Brien. Nothing could compare to At Swim-Two-Birds!

Hilary I've heard about At Swim, Two Boys more than At Swim-Two-Birds, surprisingly. It doesn't look funny, no, which is partially why I'm hesitant to read it. I'll keep expecting someone to argue that their wife is a kangaroo.

David Katzman Or is a bicycle.

Kelly H. (Maybedog) "Do not mistake this for Young Adult. Sex, swearing, and some nasty violence (wait, violence is okay for kids these days, isn’t it? It’s just the sex they’re not allowed to see)..."

We live in a very odd world.

I'm very glad you noticed the typos. And counted them. We were meant to be friends.

Nice review.

David Katzman Thanks, Kelly!

I understand how easy it is for typos to squeeze by an under-staffed small press or self-publisher, but it is hard to excuse a major press. Reading a typo in a story is like getting your thumb mashed by a hammer.

Kelly H. (Maybedog) Yes, it's kind of hard to ignore. Once you notice one, you can't help but look for them.

Caroline I am befuddled by the mixed reviews on this book. For me, it was a home run. I loved it and would have given it six stars if I could have. Seems the main criticism is of Quentin himself. Yeah, he's kind of a pain in the ass, but I didn't totally dislike him. I could understand his disillusionment. I don't know if people are coming to this book deceived by the whole "the next Harry Potter" description and are therefore let down or what, but I almost feel that critics are not understanding Grossman's approach. This is a story about RELATABLE magicians. We're supposed to be able to relate to their humanity. Harry Potter (I'm a huge fan) is charming but untouchable. Quentin and the other magicians are the opposite--that's the point. I also am not understanding the criticism of Grossman's writing. The man is a beautiful writer. That is one thing that really struck me about this book as I read--the mastery of his writing.

David Katzman Totally agree, Caroline. He took the premise of a magical school, which obviously can't help but play against the Potter mythos, and said ... what if these kids were real adolescents with real insecurities and teen-into-adult issues ... instead of young-adult-fiction teens with all the corners rounded off.

Did you see my review of Magician King? I wasn't as kind. http://www.goodreads.com/review/show/... But I truly loved this one.

message 14: by Q2 (new) - rated it 3 stars

Q2 My big complaint is that he basically copied the universe he creates from other books. Fillory is Narnia through-and-through, down to the details. It's like elaborate fan fiction.

David Katzman Hey Nicky,

Thanks for your comment. I read the first couple Narnia books when I was so young, that I did not make any specific connections to it. I'm not surprised to hear that there are similarities because I think the premise of what Grossman wanted to do was take the premise and style of young adult fantasy and lay on top of it an adult sensibility. Kind of like, you know, what if Harry Potter had sex and got a venereal disease. Or what if Aslan was neurotic and cut himself. That kind of thing...metaphorically.

I am curious what specific details you saw aligned. Please do share.

Caroline Nicky Q. wrote: "My big complaint is that he basically copied the universe he creates from other books. Fillory is Narnia through-and-through, down to the details. It's like elaborate fan fiction."

I read the books as an adult, so they're fresher in my mind than they are for David. Your claim is not true in the least, Nicky. Like David, I'm curious to know exactly which aspects of Fillory are "Narnia through-and-through, down to the details." I honestly saw none of that, and I am a very tough critic. Sure, Narnia and Harry Potter and even The Secret History were inspirations for this book, but you're pretty much accusing Grossman of plagiarism.

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