Lev Grossman’s The Magicians has many elements that I like in a novel – young protagonists, magic, magic schools, etc. In spite of all these things going for it, I had to force myself to finish it, probably won’t seek out the other two novels in the trilogy, and will end up writing more than I should about it here for CBR. I always write more when I dislike something.
The Magicians is the story of Quentin Coldwater, a boring young Brooklyn teenager who suddenly finds himself on the mysterious campus of Brakebills, a secret college where the students learn magic instead of macroeconomics. He makes friends and enemies, whines incessantly, and is actually pretty good at the whole magic thing. My sister-in-law reviewed this on Goodreads by saying it’s “what would have happened if Harry Potter were set in NY with the cast of Meg Wolitzer’s The Interestings, and they went through the wardrobe into a magical land.” So if you haven’t read The Interestings, here’s what that means: take Harry Potter, cast it with incredibly selfish and insufferable people who are a little older, and then do a less religious spin on Narnia as well.
Since I’m obviously not loving this one we’ll start with what I did like about it. I think Lev Grossman is a talented writer. His language flowed and is probably the only explanation for why I kept reading the novel. Something with so little happening shouldn’t have kept me going but his writing was of a level that I felt compelled to see the whole thing through. I liked one of the main characters, Alice. She is incredibly bright, the true heroine to the story, doesn’t take any shit, and is quite the badass. Thus concludes what I liked about this book.
I think I got to the 60% mark, maybe further, on my Kindle before anything of any remote interest happened. Up to that point, Quentin was going through each year at Brakebills and still floundering in his self-constructed misery. Perhaps it’s a byproduct of his growing up with parents who didn’t seem to care in a super hip place like Brooklyn, but boy this kid cannot find anything to be happy about. What a downer. How any of the characters ended up having any friends, much less befriending each other, is kind of a mystery. Janet is the worst and I kind of resented the fact that Grossman chose a woman to fulfill this role. She was a total cliche and just sucked all over. The rest of the cast kind of sucked as well but you don’t spend as much time with them so really Quentin wins the Razzie here. When we do finally venture into the magical land of Fillory, I hated pretty much every character but Alice so much I barely cared what happened to them. I confess to skimming probably the last few chapters. This book is boring, and if the other two in the series are like this then I definitely won’t bother. I went to a book club meeting about this and was told that unlike Harry Potter (the only magic series I read in recent history), the first novel is more of an exposition and the next one is more exciting. Is that true? Do I even care at this point? I can’t honestly recommend this book. There’s a series as well on SyFy and I think I might take it off my Netflix list now.