The Magicians by Lev Grossman

I read this book back when I first started my blog, and I’ve been considering doing a review ever since then. This book is so… dense (?) that I was not sure if I could, even remotely, objectively review it. The Magicians focuses on Quentin, a brilliant high schooler who is pretty dissatisfied with life — he likes his best friend, Julia, who happens to be dating his other best friend… and school is less than desirable or challenging. Quentin is obsessed with a book he read in his youth, much like my obsession with Harry Potter, which is what led me to read this book. It was suggested as filler read after the crushing emptiness that existed after the HP series was gone. Unfortunately, Quentin didn’t have that with his series, which takes place in Fillory, a land with many similarities to Narnia.

The Magicians

I don’t think I’m spoiling anything by saying that Quentin manages to escape his drab life to attend Brakebills, a magic university. While there, he meets a bunch of other messed up, depressed people, like Alice and Penny. They learn some magic, which is nowhere near as easy as you think it might be. Brakebills is a very interesting place, and the students are broken up into disciplines of magic to study. I’m not really going to go into a big summary, because it’s so long that I don’t want to give anything away, also I don’t think a short summary can really do it justice.

This book is soooo long… Once you think the story is over, there is almost another (short) book’s worth of stuff that happens. It is bitter and disappointed and angry. That is part of why I wasn’t sure I wanted to review it… I really enjoyed this novel, including the bitter parts. At some points, it was hard to get through, but I think that was due to every characters’ evident flaws and issues. Again, that’s one reason I liked The Magicians so much… it was real and raw and got straight to the point of things.

I would hesitantly recommend this book. It was quite good, but isn’t for fans of lighthearted fantasy. If you like your fantasy a bit darker, and a bit more complex, then you should most definitely read The Magicians. I hope to read its sequel, The Magician King, sometime this year, so maybe you can look forward to that review in the distant future.


5 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Christopher Lampton
    Feb 09, 2012 @ 15:15:26

    The Magicians is dark to the point of being a little sour, especially given Quentin’s self-hating personality, but there’s no question that Grossman has serious literary chops and understands what makes fantasy tick. There were moments in the final Fillory segments, though, where I felt more like I was playing an Xbox role-playing game complete with fireball spells and conjuration skills than reading a literary fantasy novel. I’m curious to see where he goes with this in The Magician King (which I haven’t read yet). The premise has possibilities, especially now that Grossman seems to have moved beyond the book’s Harry Potter phase at Brakebills.


    • hannahrose42
      Feb 09, 2012 @ 15:25:32

      I agree completely. I also know that somewhere, I have notes that state each page where Quentin’s thoughts or actions made me really, really angry.
      The possibilities in Fillory are endless, so I’m hoping Quentin bucks up and gets over himself for The Magician King.


  2. Alison
    Feb 09, 2012 @ 15:28:28

    I’m reading this right now. I’m not sure if I like it though. Thankfully I went into this knowing it was darker and not a lighthearted fantasy.


  3. obiwannabe
    Feb 09, 2012 @ 16:22:43

    I kind of despised this book. Excellent writing, well-textured characters, interesting world — an excellent piece of work. That I hated. Intensely. I finished the book, and just sat there thinking “You took me on this grand, beautiful journey — and this is what you wanted to tell me, Lev Grossman? That everything sucks? Awesome, thanks.”


  4. Adam
    Feb 09, 2012 @ 23:13:21

    I enjoyed the book when I read it I think over the summer. The biggest problem for me with this book is that while it’s very well written, it’s not terribly original.

    (Some spoilers here.)

    The first half of the book is essentially the same as the early Harry Potter books, except they’re older students so there’s sex involved in their relationships, and the second book is really kind of directionless and leads to a weak ending.

    I enjoyed the book while I was reading it, but to be honest, without having read your post, I wouldn’t even have been able to tell you the main characters name. It’s very well written, but there’s nothing especially memorable about the book.


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