The Magicians immediately appealed to my writer bones There a great many sharply observed and cuttingly sarcastic lines There a good few beautiful ones Along with the Victorian sensibilities of the Brakebills school of magic Lev Grossman adopts a witty almost drawing room prose that has notes of Oscar Wilde and the later Evelyn Waugh More recently it puts me in mind of the literary excellence of Josiah Bancroft.
So the writing is top notch The characters The plot All very engaging too.
I have seen some reviewers make a big deal of the point of view character, Quentin Coldwater, being an unsympathetic protagonist I really didn t get that The book has been called Harry Potter for grownups it contains a magic school, what else will people call it and certainly Quentin is no brave hearted, resilient hero in the making in the model of young Mr Potter He s flawed, human, he variously feels sorry for himself, or thinks too much of himself What part of this is not covered by for grownups Quentin is someone unable to be happy Even when given exactly what he wants This is a part of the human condition, no rarer than blue eyes, especially in the teenage years I enjoyed the skill with which it was shown to us and the gradual building of consequences.
The supporting cast are interesting The magic school isof a university and so we have drinking and sex We have rich, privileged kids affecting disaffection, forming cliques, being overbearingly intellectual It s all very well drawn and often amusing It s often genuinely clever too I enjoyed spending time in the company of these complex characters.
We rattle through the school section considerably faster than I thought we would I think a couple of years are knocked off in a single chapter at one point The magic is interesting too It s not handed over in detail, there s no Wingardium Leviosa, but we get a strong impression of its highly technical and fiddly nature Thankfully we don t have to suffer through that like the students do and we get to see some flashy magic later on.
So half the book is Quentin going to school and learning his trade in a Harry Potter minus Dumbledore and Voldemort style The second half, heavily foreshadowed and linked to in the first half, involves what is an unmistakeable let s call it homage to Narnia It s called Fillory in the book but we will call it what it is here Narnia.
Anyway, Quentin has been obsessed with the Narnia books since he was a small child Narnia is where he wants to go, needs to go, will go and will find the happiness that keeps slipping through his fingers.
And yes they go, via the rings button from the first Narnia book and the Wood Between The Worlds now paved over with the pools converted into fountains Narnia comes complete with fauns in the snow, a family of talking beavers, and a need to have two daughters of Eve and two sons of Adam wear the crowns and sit as kings and queens in Cair Paravel.
Of course instead of the Pevensie children it is now a collection of variously drunk, messed up, twenty one year old magicians with relationship issues, subcutaneous demons, and at least one handgun They do have to deal with the aftermath of the Pevensie visit though.
It s all very well done and both cleverly deconstructs and goes beyond the Narnia books into its own post CS Lewis plot that feeds nicely back into puzzling elements within the first half of the book.
In short this is a really good read More sophisticated than most genre work, which I guess is why it is sometimes cited as a crossover book To my mind though it is simply very well written fantasy Harry Potter for grownups Plus Narnia for grownups Join my 3 emails a year newsletter prizes.
The story of a quasi sociopathic high school cretin who mouth breathes his way into an exclusive fantasy club of anhedonic wizards replete with bad writing and worse story telling Enjoy.
You can t just decide to be happy No, you can t But you can sure as hell decide to be miserable Is that what you wantThe answer to this, as far as Quentin Coldwater is concerned, is a resounding YES At any stage of his life He makes Holden Caulfield look like a bundle of sunshine He makes Charlie Brown resemble an embodiment of optimism and positivity Eeyore the Donkey is brimming with life force compared to our perpetually unhappy heroYou couldn t have everything Or at least the available evidence pointed overwhelmingly to that conclusionNot only will he always think of a cup as being half empty, but he will drive himself crazy wondering who the hell drank half of it to make it so Hand him his deepest dream on a silver platter and five minutes later he will be whining in a decidedly disillusioned fashion about how it fails to make him happy Disillusionment and dissatisfaction are how he operates If ennui were to be a superpower, Quentin Coldwater would have been Superman, propelled into space by the power of his constant negativity.
All of it just confirmed his belief that his real life, the life he should be living, had been mislaid through some clerical error by the cosmic bureaucracy This couldn t be it It had been diverted somewhere else, to somebody else, and he d been issued this shitty substitute faux life insteadInThe MagiciansLev Grossman goes against the popular device of literature the allure of wish fulfillment, the deep rooted belief that once you find that secret place in life where you belong things will magically be alright and you will be happy Granted, he goes against the literary mainstream while at the same time using the obviously commercially successful formula of a young protagonist with a newly found magical ability who suddenly finds himself in an equivalent of a British boarding school well, in this case, a college In Upstate New York But it s still a British boarding school, really view spoiler If you have been living under a rock for the last couple of decades, that s Harry Potter I m alluding to here hide spoiler If you will, for just one second, look at your life and see how perfect it is Stop looking for the next secret door that is going to lead you to your real life Stop waiting This is it there s nothing else It s here, and you d better decide to enjoy it or you re going to be miserable wherever you go, for the rest of your life, forever You can t just decide to be happy No, you can t But you can sure as hell decide to be miserable Is that what you want Do you want to be the asshole who went to Fillory and was miserable there Even in Fillory Because that s who you are right nowBrakebills is like Harry Potter for assholes, and to that, I say bravo because that s a fucking fantastic thing Yes, Harry Potter was a pretty dark series by its end, but it started as a children s tale The characters are admirable Brave Courageous They are imperfect, but they re often models, paragons Real life isn t like that Real people are jerks, and, let s admit it, we ll do anything to get ahead We lie We cheat We steal This is the American dream, and this is what the American characters in this book represent The main character in this book is a depressed, over analytical little shit and that s just fine, because I m a glass half empty kind of person, and he resonates with me.
Are the main characters in this book nice people Fuck no Maybe that s why I like them I m an asshole Let me clarify that I m not deliberately mean I am not a jerk, but asshole to me, means you do what it takes to get ahead in life It s all good to be meek, to be gentle It s fine, but it s not going to get you anywhere in life Studies have shown that leaders are, in fact, people who are jerks Sure, you can be charming, charismatic, but everyone needs a little assholery in their life, however well concealed.
If you re content with normalcy and a quiet, calm life without stress Great Good for you I admire you, and I say that with neither condescension nor sarcasm But a nice, quiet life where one doesn t want to get ahead, where one doesn t feel the need to stand up for one s self is not for everyone It s not for me I need stress in my life I need power And that, my friend, is why I like the characters in this book They re assholes, they re not perfect, they re stupid at times, they reSlytherin than Gryffindor, and they re the symbol of Murica, y all This ain t your British boarding school.
The main character in this book is a brilliant kid who stumbles literally into the Magical school of Brakebills There is no magical legacy here There are no magical families Brakebills is effort only, talent only Either you got magical powers or you re just a Muggle Quentin passes the magical test not ever having known that such a magical world existed , and is admitted into the school Harry Potter jumped at the thought of entry into Hogwarts Quentin not so much Suppose it really was a school for magic Was it any good What if he d stumbled into some third tier magic college by accident He had to think practically He didn t want to be committing himself to some community college of sorcery when he could have Magic Harvard or whatever.
Skepticism Yeah The characters in this book do not come from all walks of life They re the best of the best The cr me de la cr me Throw them all together and you ve got the equivalent of a bunch of pre med studenst killing each other to get 0.
1% higher in class Quentin is fucking brilliant, the best in his school in the normal world It s not going to matter hereAre you smart There was no non embarrassing answer to this I guess Don t worry about it, everybody here is If they even brought you in for the Exam you were the smartest person in your school, teachers included Everyone here was the cleverest little monkey in his or her particular tree Except now we re all in one tree together It can be a shock Not enough coconuts to go round You ll be dealing with your equals for the first time in your life, and your betters You won t like it.
There s no Harry and Ron and Hermione here There is friendship, yes, but there s always a spirit of competition here, because they re all the best striving to be the best among the best They were quiet and intense, always eyeing each other assessingly, as if they were trying to figure out who if it came right down to it would take out who in an intellectual death match They didn t congregate overmuch they were always civil but rarely warm They were used to competing and used to winning In other words, they were like Quentin, and Quentin wasn t used to being around people like himself.
There s not much playing, a lot of studying Friendship does not come easily Harry met Ron and bonded on the Hogwarts Express It s a much bumpier road to friendship hereListen to me carefully, Fogg was saying Most people are blind to magic They move through a blank and empty world They re bored with their lives, and there s nothing they can do about it They re eaten alive by longing, and they re dead before they die But you live in the magical world, and it s a great gift And if you want to get killed here, you ll find plenty of opportunities without killing each otherThe magical system in ths book is mechanical, methodical There are no muttered phrases, no cute names for spells Instead of a visible villain like Voldemort, the evil, the terror in this book are much less visible, but by no means less effective I ve rarely read a phrase in a book that hasaccurately described a feeling of a panic attack There was something odd about the man s appearance Quentin couldn t seem to make out his face For a second he couldn t figure out why, and then he realized it was because there was a small leafy branch in front of it that partially obscured his features The branch came from nowhere It was attached to nothing It just hung there in front of the man s face.
Then Professor March stopped speaking and froze in place.
Alice had stopped, too The room was silent A chair creaked Quentin couldn t move either There was nothing restraining him, but the line between his brain and his body had been cut.
He circled Professor March There was something strange about the way he moved, something too fluid about his gait When he walked into the light, Quentin saw that he wasn t quite human, or if he had been once he wasn t any Below the cuffs of his white shirt his hands had three or four too many fingers.
Fifteen minutes crawled by, then half an hour Quentin couldn t turn his head, and the man moved in and out of his field of view He puttered with Professor March s equipment He toured the auditorium He took out a knife and pared his fingernails Objects stirred and shifted restlessly in place whenever he walked too near them He picked up an iron rod from March s demonstration table and bent it like a piece of licorice.
Quentin s fear came and went and came back in huge sweating rushes, crashing waves He was sure something very bad was happening, it just wasn t clear yet exactly what.
I know there are a lot of people who hated this book 3.
6 is a pretty crap rating for a book of this popularity, but I loved it, and here s why The main character is smart, he wants to get ahead, he is pessimistic, he is a skeptic Why is this a bad thing What s wong with looking at everything through The world is not all rainbows and roses We need people who see the glass as half empty Fantasy is great, I absolutely love Harry Potter, but there s always too much of a good thing Main characters do not always have to be admirable Anti heroes are awesome, too Selfishness, narcissism, misanthropy these are not necessarily negative traits because they make a character human Are you perfect I know I m not I know I have my dark moments I know that I hate people 97% of the time because humans are dumb It s not wrong to want to get ahead in life It s not wrong to want to be the best.
The world is not a magical place It is filled with corruption and people who will step on you if given the chance Survival of the fittest means you have to be a jerk at times you have to stand up for yourself.
That is why I like this book It is dark, it is pessimistic, it views fantasy and magic in amethodical,sensible manner It is realistic If you want your rainbows and magical lions that talk, go back to Narnia I ll take my Brakebills.
originally reviewed in Sept 2010 I have a Goordreads friend who likes this book He expressed a thought that I might not While not wholly correct about my take he came pretty close Well, first Stephen, you re right in a way, I don t like stories that are downers just to be downers The nihilistic attitude you see so often I don t like the as I ve said before life is crap and then you die story So many today seem to think that for a story to have any depth it has to be deeply depressing On the other hand if there is a reason for the sadness in a story then it makes sense for example Julius Winsome, Julius Winsome one of the saddest books out there, but wonderful and highly recommended.
But you were close to right about this one It has in my opinion a lot of flaws I m sorry I feel this way for Dawn just gave it 5 stars and I agree with her on some books So, please don t be insulted that we disagree here.
I don t hate this book, but neither do I really care for it For much of it s length it could be said that the book actually has no plot It s a series of events in the life of Quentin and the other students at Brakebills magical college Some books can get away with this Jonathan Strange Mr Norrell for example and still be excellent reads simply by dint of world building and characterization This one sadly didn t manage it It sort of stumbles along giving us insight into the personality of Quentin, Elliot, Janet, and Alice, which we do use later every time I use that phrase I recall Andy Griffith using it in his retelling of Hamlet , and finally gets around to a story line maybe three quarters of the way through The book has been compared to Harry Potter and Narnia Well, I suppose if Harry were a selfish, snotty, creepand Narnia had been conceived and written about by Stephen King this could be at least close to true Though King is a better writer In great part some of this book strikes me as written by someone Lev Grossman who wants to drag worlds where there is any hint of innocence and undiluted goodness into our tainted world and rub them down good with filth This is a disillusioned, sad, and corrupted version of the magical story And also of magic worlds It s not an adult take on it, it s a disillusioned, tainted take on it It is a nihilist take on life in general told using the mode of a magic world view spoiler At one point in a discussion Quentin is told by the others he s the only one who still believes in magic They all know magic is real, but they re all disillusioned about it hide spoiler
Pretend Harry Potter was a bit of a narcissistic douchebag, and all of his friends were whiny a holes who drank too much.
Now pretend that they crammed 5 years worth of their Hogwarts adventures into one book Except most of the adventures are fairly mundane, with a few exceptions sprinkled here and there.
Then pretend at the very end of said book, they all took a trip to a warped version of Narniawith mixed results.
Now, if you re the type of reader who absolutely has to like the main character, or feels like you need to at the very least sympathize with them Then you may want to give this one a pass.
I knew going into it that this was a story populated with moody dickholes, so that part of it didn t bother me.
What I didn t realize was that this was going to be a fairly random, rambling book It just sort of goes along at its own pace, telling the story it wants to tell, without much regard to how much you want it to get to the fucking point already.
The short version Quentin finds out he s one of the elite few magicians in the world, and then embarks on a rather dull journey to find his place in the world.
Ok, now having said all of that, you may be wondering why I gave this 4 stars Well, first off, because I read the shit out of it I can t for the life of me pinpoint why, but I didn t want to put it down I just had to keep reading And I had a lot of stuff to do that weekend And, second, I really enjoyed the way the story sort of started out one way and then ended up in a completely different spot than I thought it would Full circle craziness in the blandest way imaginable, of course.
Oh, and for those of you who are wondering Yeah, this is absolutely nothing like the television show And by absolutely nothing I mean, duh, it has stuff in common Hello It s based on the books But it looks like they took the general idea of the books and made a show out of it, instead of making a faithful rendition of the story.
Anyhoo I probably wouldn t have read this if I hadn t started binging the show on Netflix one Saturday with my son But after 6 or 7 episodes we were kinda burned out It felt like a low budget show about whiners at a college for magic, and neither of us felt like pressing Next Episode.
I was curious enough to see what inspired itI ll be the first to admit this is a Not For Everyone book, but I enjoyed it Then again, I like weird stuff Quentin Coldwater is an unhappy teen, eyeing up an uncertain future in college He s secretly in love with his friend Julia Nothing else really matters to him except the Fillory and Further series of books he s loved since childhood Imagine how he feels when a seamingly routine college interview drops an undiscovered Fillory book in his grasp and leads him to Brakebills, a college of wizardry, and worlds beyondFirst of all, this isn t Harry Potter for adults, no matter how much people want to slap that label on it Although if you expanded that label to Harry Potter for cynical adults who ve read Harry Potter and don t think it s the greatest series ever written, it would beaccurate It has a superficial resemblance to Harry Potter in that both books involve learning to be a wizard That s about it Parts of it remind me of Stephen King s The Talisman, while others reminded me of Wizard of Earthsea, and the magic reminds me of Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell.
In a nutshell, The Magicians depicts what would happen if regular people went to a college for wizards, complete with parties, sex, drugs, cursing, and making stupid choices The characters make mistakes and act like normal people, not heroes Quentin s never happy, not even in his relationship with Alice or his friendships with the other wizards.
One thing that stands out in The Magicians is the magic It s not fake latin and waving wands around It s taxing and has consequences and learning it is extremely difficult One character s speculation that magic might be the tools left behind after the universe was created really sticks in my mind.
The back cover says it s a coming of age story It is, and the moral of the story is Be careful what you wish for You just might get it.
Reprinted from the Chicago Center for Literature and Photography cclapcenter.
com I am the original author of this essay, as well as the owner of CCLaP it is not being reprinted illegally UPDATE After reading other reviews online, I realized that I could ve made my point evensuccinctly by simply saying the following Oh, wonderful another dour academe writes another fussy, joyless genre exercise, designed specifically for MFA circle jerks who consider themselves above such silly frippery Yeah, that s exactly what the world needed I like that review muchthan my original one below, which as commenters have already noted, sounds like I didn t get the fact that Grossman deliberately ripped off the Harry Potter storyline, precisely to make the point that such a world would actually be fussy and joyless I get that Grossman deliberately ripped off Harry Potter my point is that he s an untalented f cking hack for doing so, and that such a thing is profoundly offensive to those of us who are adult genre fans, and who do enjoy the Harry Potter books precisely for their sense of joy and wonder Regular readers know that I mostly judge books here on relative terms relative to the author s experience, relative to my natural interest in its subject, relative to the amount of money that was spent promoting that book And that s why I was so excited to get my hands on Lev Grossman s The Magicians, one of the most heavily hyped books of last autumn, because it comes with an excellent pedigree written by the main book critic for Time magazine, it is purportedly an inventive urban fantasy tale described by many as Harry Potter for grown ups or technically, Harry Potter meets Narnia for grown ups, the milieu of each taking up either half of Grossman s own novel , and with a whole series of gushing blurbs on the back cover from a whole series of impressive authors, with no less than Junot Diaz calling it stirring, complex and adventurous Of course, this nicely illustrates as well the inherent ethical problems with a book reviewer writing and publishing their own creative work because who s to say that any of these quoted authors actually meant any of the praise they give, and aren t instead terrified of Grossman doing a hatchet job on their own books for refusing to play along That s why I m such a stickler for the idea that professional book reviewers should never, ever publish their own creative work in the field of whatever type of literature they re paid to review, and why a big red flag goes up in my head every time one of them does And it s for all these reasons that this book s massive shortcomings made me not just disappointed but actively infuriated because when people say that this is Harry Potter for grown ups, they mean that it is a literal beat for beat plagiaristic ripoff of the Harry Potter books, such a thoroughly naked steal of someone else s ideas that I m legitimately surprised that JK Rowling hasn t sued Grossman back into the stone age Don t believe me Well, just look at the evidence it s about a group of teenagers who receive mysterious invitations to attend a magic school, housed in a crumbling gothic castle located several hours north of a major metropolitan area, hidden from the public by powerful illusion spells and full of delightfully quirky tics like moving staircases and disappearing doors, overseen by a wise but childlike white bearded authority figure, who just happens to own a magical map showing the location of all residents at any given moment, where for some reason all renovations seem to have been banned somewhere around the middle of the Victorian Age, which for an equally inexplicable reason has adopted both the structure and even the terms of the British educational system despite being an American school, whose students enjoy on the weekends an intercollegiate sport that s much like the magical version of a human game, and where it turns out that spell casting is actually a fairly tedious academic process of memorization and proper inflection J sus, Grossman, you untalented hack, why don t you throw in a Golden F cking Snitch while you re at it Now, I acknowledge that genre novels by nature are always going to share a certain amount of elements with other novels in that genre, and in fact I have no problem with that when it s done well and used merely as a starting point for an excellent example, see Susanna Clarke s fantastic Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell, which takes a very Potteresque concept magic actually exists in open hiding all around us but instead does something strikingly original with the idea, creating an entire millennium long fake history of the UK and then focusing in on the dysfunctional fuddy duddys who are the masters of this made up applied science But in The Magicians, Grossman presents not even a single solitary idea that he didn t steal from someone else, essentially making the whole thing feel like the unnecessary fan fiction product of some 17 year old goth girl who s jealous that Rowling beat her to the punch and while that would be fine if this actually was a piece of xeroxed fan fiction from a 17 year old goth girl with no original ideas of her own, it s f cking inexcusable when it s the most heavily hyped book of the year, and comes from the main book critic of Time f cking magazine J sus, what a godd mned waste of my time this derivative piece of sh t was F CK YOU, LEV GROSSMAN, for stealing a week of my life that I will never get back.
Out of 10 0.
To be fair there are certain things Grossman does well There are isolated set pieces of violence and magical ritual gone wrong, that are thrilling, scary and visceral He also is very clever at conveying the huge rush of empowerment a disenfranchised teen would feel when uncovering then honing magical powers The old riff of a nobody becoming somebody is done well here, even though it s crouched in dry, clinical and mechanistic terms that undermine its effectiveness And that s the rub here For every scene of terror and beauty, there are two that are clumsy and lame Grossman presents certain key plot elements so obtusely that they hit like a feather instead of a hammer He condenses action at the wrong times, has pivotal stuff occur off stage as it were and just doesn t deliver from page to page either on the commercial fiction scale or one grander Traditional Fantasy Novels power as well as their stodgy childishness lie to a degree in their pedagogical function They are to an extent primers for young people on how to behave, how to become aeffective human being, how to be brave in the face of adversity and to learn to be selfless on occasion even though ones adolescent genes and jeans are screaming for pure selfish, solipsistic, I am the center of the universe, expression So there is a journey up Mount Doom by sad, wounded Frodo and stout, brave Sam And Harry Potter puts his nuts on the line over and over against that nose less wonder, Voldemort, secure in the knowledge that Ron and Hermione always have his back They are, in the course of their journeys, becoming braver and stronger and less rooted in their myopic view of things In Grossman s novel, the protagonist starts out as a selfish turd, segue ways toselfish turdism, and then does a sideways double back flip into being you guessed it a selfish turd This is refreshing to an extent how like real life it is people seldom change unless confronted by trauma or some extreme events But in Grossman s hands it is just onenail in the coffin, taking an eminently worthwhile premise adult Harry Potter, twisted Narnia and magically transforming it through bad craft into utter shit.
A Thrilling And original Coming Of Age Novel For Adults About A Young Man Practicing Magic In The Real WorldQuentin 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 Dangerous Than He Could Have Imagined His Childhood Dream Becomes A Nightmare With A Shocking Truth At Its Heart At Once Psychologically Piercing And Magnificently Absorbing, The Magicians Boldly Moves Into Uncharted Literary Territory, Imagining Magic As Practiced By Real People, With Their Capricious Desires And Volatile Emotions Lev Grossman Creates An Utterly original World In Which Good And Evil Aren T Black And White, Love And Sex Aren T Simple Or Innocent, And Power Comes At A Terrible Price