Clair's Reviews > The Magicians

The Magicians by Lev Grossman
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's review
Sep 17, 2012

liked it
bookshelves: fiction, reviewed

The only things I knew about The Magicians before I read it was...

1) It was good.
2) It was basically Harry Potter, but the characters went to a university (Brakebills College for Magical Pedagogy) rather than a secondary institution (Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry).

Pleasantly, I discovered many more things about The Magicians as I read it in my spare time.

1) Its main character (especially later in the book) takes Harry Potter at his most angsty and quintuples it.
2) Magic is really, really hard. You have to be a genius to even scrape a bad grade at Brakebills. It's both a science and an art form. Hell, one of the characters (whose skill is in light magic) tries make a spell to isolate photons for her senior thesis.
3) Magic does have the potential to screw you over. (Such as Quentin's kind of unfair rejection of his unrequited high school love Julia when he comes back for the summer holidays.)

Yes, I liked this novel. However, it's a shame I didn't find it as... good as it could have been. Maybe I was too hyped going into it, maybe I'm being a bit unfair, but I do have my problems.

Firstly, I didn't enjoy the pacing. Due to the magic surrounding Brakebills, time is supposed to run a lot faster than it does in the normal world. So, for example, March at Brakebills is Christmas-time in our world. That's fine by me, but it seemed like both Alice and Quentin and Penny absolutely flew through their school years. One moment they were itty-bitty first years, then about two or three months in, they were elevated to second year. They continue to zoom through the school years, with a few scant references to academic study, but by third year, there's more in the way of sitting around in their common room and exchanging quips with their peers.

Oh, of course, there's a Welters tournament or two, which is like chess/chequers, but done with real people casting spells to complete the board. That breaks up the monotony somewhat, but basically, the main focus after the fourth year seems to be Quentin and his friends. And interpersonal drama. Sadly, I just didn't care for it, and longed for more descriptions of magic and this wonderful world.

Our main character, Quentin, was a bit of a wet rag. To begin with, I thought he was an okay protagonist. A bit of a miserable bugger, but okay, fine. It's just a shame he turns into Angsty Potter around two thirds of the way in. Especially when he gets a girlfriend and has a few other romantic affairs throughout the latter parts of the story.

I should also add around now that a large subplot revolves around these fantasy books Quentin read as a child, which take place in a magical world called Fillory, accessible through a portal, with talking animals, centaurs, satyrs, and a menace that looms over the whole world... Yeah, it's pretty much The Magicians' equivalent of Narnia. Hell, there's even an empty castle and royal seats, free for the taking for true of heart children of Adam Earth.

Somewhere within the tomb was a crown, a silver crown that had once been worn by the noble King Martin, centuries ago, when the Chatwins reigned. If they could recover the crown and bring it to Castle Whitespire, then they could occupy the thrones themselves - or four of them could anyway - and become kings and queens of Fillory and end the threat of the Watcherwoman forever.

The weakest part of the book for me was when everybody graduated from Brakebills, and it was nothing but parties and sitting around the apartment. The plot ground to a halt, until one character came back into the story and announced they were all going to travel into another dimension. (As you do.)

The trip into Fillory was interesting to begin with, I guess, but I didn't quite have the heartbroken reaction I feel I was supposed to have upon the death of a certain character. Also, the fight scene with the main villain (the Beast, a suited-and-booted man who has a tree branch covering his face) was kind of underwhelming. However, there were a few clever twists in Fillory. In particular, the revelation that one character has been a pawn in a quest to change the time line.

I really do love the idea of Brakebills, though. I liked the main character being a frustrated genius, wallowing in his boredom of the mundane world before being introduced to the world of sorcery. I love the idea of magic being extremely difficult to work with, and requiring all sorts of conditions for even a minor spell to work, but unfortunately, this novel wasn't quite for me. The pacing was too fast, I was bored whenever we went outside Brakebills, and even some moments of really nice writing (like the description of Fillory the first time they visit). An interesting concept, with a slightly less-than-stellar execution. 3.5/5.

(This review is also available on my blog:
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Reading Progress

September 17, 2012 – Shelved
October 5, 2012 – Started Reading
October 5, 2012 –
page 11
October 9, 2012 –
page 49
10.04% "This. Is. Awesome."
October 16, 2012 –
page 56
11.48% "Oh my god. Eliot. You are one of my new favourite characters. Ever."
October 23, 2012 –
page 65
13.32% "Okay, so, I've seen lots of reviews saying this is just like Harry Potter, but a university instead of a secondary institute. Eh... not really seeing that. It has a nice touch of originality to it... I guess. xD"
October 26, 2012 –
page 81
16.6% "Brb, crawling into a cupboard and hoping I'll wind up at Brakebills. My Hogwarts letter never arrived, so I can still hope!"
October 27, 2012 –
page 90
18.44% "I want to go to Brakebills so badly. It sounds amazing."
October 30, 2012 –
page 140
28.69% "Yeah, I know I'm being really slow with this one... But it deserves to be savoured."
October 30, 2012 –
page 140
28.69% "I do really like this book, however, I do have one complain. Quentin and Alice are geniuses, yes, but the author likes to skip around with their school years. I.e., they both pass an exam to elevate them from first to second to third year, then every mow you'll be reading a new chapter which is like: "The next two/three/six months were like..." Gragh. Maybe I'm just being very picky."
November 1, 2012 –
page 150
November 2, 2012 –
page 175
35.86% "Gotta love how transforming your fourth year students into geese and expecting them to fly from upstate New York to Antarctica is considered an acceptable practical excursion at Brakebills."
November 6, 2012 –
page 195
November 9, 2012 –
page 250
November 10, 2012 –
page 270
November 11, 2012 –
page 270
55.33% "It turns out that when you graduate Brakebills, you get taken down to a dungeon, get a pentagram tattooed on your back, and get a lower-class demon sealed within you so you can call them out to fight for you in life/death situations. Ermahgerd."
November 11, 2012 –
page 295
60.45% "Apparently, Lovelady crossed the Atlantic after getting on the Channel Tunnel train and making his way to Paris. Um, dude? I think most of our transatlantic crossings leave from Portugal."
November 11, 2012 –
page 305
62.5% ""No," Penny could be defensive when he felt like he was under attack, but he was so autistically-focused right now that even direct mockery bounced right off him. I wouldn't use 'autistically' as a pre-modifier there. Maybe hyper-focused would have been better. :/"
November 11, 2012 –
page 317
64.96% "Penny was nodding and rocking his whole body forward and backward semi-autistically. What the heck does that even mean? Ugh."
November 12, 2012 –
page 355
72.75% "Noooo, this is losing steam! D:"
November 13, 2012 –
page 375
76.84% "So, Quentin and co have arrived in Fillory, which totally isn't Narnia, you guys. Ignore all the magical creatures, the spiteful queen who wants to cover the land in winter, sorry, stop time, and also the empty castle which needs Kings and Queens. Said Kings and Queens must be children of Adam, whoops, sorry, Earth."
November 13, 2012 –
page 379
77.66% "Somewhere within the tomb was a crown, a silver crown that had once been worn by the noble King Martin, centuries ago, when the Chatwins reigned. If they could recover the crown and bring it to Castle Whitespire, then they could occupy the thrones themselves - or four of them could anyway - and become kings and queens of Fillory and end the threat of the Watcherwoman forever.\n \n Sound familiar?"
November 13, 2012 –
page 405
82.99% "Yeah, really losing interest in this."
November 13, 2012 –
page 417
November 13, 2012 –
page 425
87.09% "Narnia had Lion-Jesus, Fillory has... Sheep-Jesus."
November 13, 2012 –
page 429
87.91% "Oh, uh, shit. Twist!!"
November 14, 2012 –
page 448
91.8% "...Nah, still not too crazy about the ending."
November 14, 2012 –
page 454
93.03% "A small herd of tame horses roamed the wide lawns of the Retreat at will. At first Quentin thought they were just pets, but the arrangement turned out to be slightly more complex than that. Centaurs of both sexes frequently copulated with the horses, publicly and loudly.\n \n "
November 14, 2012 –
page 462
94.67% "So the Watcherwoman is a bit like Homura from Puella Magi Madoka Magica. Interesting."
November 14, 2012 –
page 479
November 14, 2012 – Shelved as: fiction
November 14, 2012 – Finished Reading
November 15, 2012 – Shelved as: reviewed

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

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Marie Ah yes, that's one I need to get to. I bought it I don't know how long ago and for the past week has been sitting on my desk, just waiting for me to finish all my other reading.

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