REVIEW: The Magicians by Lev Grossman

REVIEW: The Magicians by Lev GrossmanThe Magicians (The Magicians #1) by Lev Grossman
Published: Viking Adult (2009), Hardcover, 416pg
Source: Library
Genres: Fantasy, Fiction

Quentin Coldwater is brilliant but miserable. A senior in high school, he’s still secretly preoccupied with a series of fantasy novels he read as a child, set in a magical land called Fillory. Imagine his surprise when he finds himself unexpectedly admitted to a very secret, very exclusive college of magic in upstate New York, where he receives a thorough and rigorous education in the craft of modern sorcery.

He also discovers all the other things people learn in college: friendship, love, sex, booze, and boredom. Something is missing, though. Magic doesn’t bring Quentin the happiness and adventure he dreamed it would. After graduation he and his friends make a stunning discovery: Fillory is real. But the land of Quentin’s fantasies turns out to be much darker and more dangerous than he could have imagined. His childhood dream becomes a nightmare with a shocking truth at its heart. (from Amazon)

I decided to read The Magicians mostly because everyone’s been peeing their pants with excitement for it, and I thought it’d be a worthwhile read. I like urban fantasy! I like children’s fantasy books! And so I got it out from my library.

I’m not entirely convinced ya’ll should be ruining your underthings for this book.

I think I was expecting The Magicians to be something it’s not– namely, lighthearted– and also I kept trying to read it like a YA book when it’s definitely not a YA book. I think the main plotline (teenager goes to magical school and becomes a wizard) kept tripping me up, because it’s such a YA thing to have in a book. You know? So my own expectations and…lens? colored my reading of The Magicians and that’s probably why I didn’t end up enjoying it as much as I thought I would.

I did enjoy it, sure. Mostly. I liked the whole idea of a magical college, and I liked some of the characters (unfortunately I didn’t like Quentin), and the book has a really British vibe to it for some reason. It’s just that I had more problems with The Magicians than I expected, and I’m not entirely convinced my problems came from the fact that I kept trying to read it as something different.

For instance, I didn’t like Quentin, as I said. He’s more an anti-hero than a hero, which isn’t a big deal (I actually like anti-heroes) but I didn’t like him even then. I found him repugnant most of the time, and it was only towards the end that I felt any sympathy for him. I didn’t like Alice, his girlfriend. I didn’t like any of the other characters except maybe Eliot and that was probably only because he was gay and I naturally feel more inclined to like gay characters.

I enjoyed the first part of the book much more than the last parts. But the last parts were enjoyable in a different way than the first part were. The first part was exciting because it was a magical college, and the second part was enjoyable in a “omg this is really depressing” kind of way. I know I’ve said over and over again that I can’t stand angst, but at the same time I really enjoy it– in a masochistic kind of way– when books take something sacred to me and then break it somehow. So, The Magicians took the sanctity of children’s fantasy books and exposed the underlying crap that tends to lurk in them.

So, it was depressing, in the same way that all dashed hopes are depressing, but it was fun to read about, too.

The problem is that the two main parts of the book seem to much different from each other that it made The Magicians more schizophrenic then it should have been. Then too there were some plotlines that went nowhere– though the majority seemed to tie themselves up by the end, true. But some other things just sort of appeared and then fizzled out and I’m not entirely sure what purpose they served in relation to the overall story.

The writing– minus the characters and the plot, of course– was fine. I didn’t notice anything horribly wrong and it kept me reading until the end, didn’t it?

I can’t help feeling like maybe I’m feeling a little more harsh towards The Magicians than I should. Is it because I’m mad it’s not more YA-ish? Or is it because of something else? I’ve been reading some other reviews and they’ve mostly been saying the same things I’ve been saying in my review, so maybe I’m just overreacting.

I would definitely recommend giving The Magicians a thought it you think it’d be something you like. It’s an interesting take on the world of children’s fantasy while not being a children’s fantasy itself. I read in another review that The Magicians is supposed to be a satire of those sorts of books, so perhaps try reading it that way instead of like a YA book and you’ll probably be fine.

Maybe get it from your library before forking moola out for the hardcover, though.

Read: November 2009

6 thoughts on “REVIEW: The Magicians by Lev Grossman”

  1. I didn’t really like this one either — for different reasons. But I read it because I thought it was going to be “Harry Potter for adults.” So even if you had picked up the book without thinking YA, I bet you still wouldn’t have loved it.

    1. Oh, I knew it wasn’t a YA book, but I thought it might be more like Neil Gaiman’s Stardust— an adult fantasy book with YA sensibilities. The Magicians is more like an adult book that killed a YA book, skinned it, then wore the skin and tried to pass itself off as a hybrid instead of a pretender. 😀

  2. I’ve been wanting to read The Magicians because it’s been advertised as “Harry Potter for adults” and I’m always looking for a replacement. I still wouldn’t mind reading it to fill my curiosity, I just won’t go in with unrealistic expectations. Thanks for your review.

    1. It’d be extremely hard to replicate HP, both in adult and YA worlds. Have you read any of Diana Wynne Jones? Her books have the same sort of feel that HP does (though they’re not adult, so still no HP-for-adults unfortunately).

  3. I often get mad at books that have been hyped up a lot, because they can never live up to the ridiculously high expectations I have of them. Sometimes I think I might have enjoyed a book much more if I hadn’t heard all the pee-your-pants-with-excitement hype. 😛

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