The Magicians by Lev Grossman is a tale about magic college but less fun than most people expect it would be. Instead of going to an actual college like Princeton or Yale, Quentin Coldwater chooses to attend Brakebills college, a college for people who can use magic. This is the beginning a new life for Quentin who wants to escape his old life and give his life a purpose.
The novel focuses on Quentin learning magic in college for four years and his journey to Fillory, a mythological place that has turned into a popular kids book. Quentin grew up sad and depressed because Fillory isn’t real and neither is magic. That changes on one eventful day when he mysteriously vanished from fifth avenue in Brooklyn to upstate New York and ends up taking an entrance exam for Brakesbill.
Grossman takes a lot of stuff from Harry Potter, Lord of the Rings, and The Chronicles of Narnia and builds his world and novel. There isn’t too much originality but he does dive into stuff that the other novels didn’t’t. And it almost works. Almost. Grossman has a lot of great ideas floating around in the book but doesn’t pursue them and it leaves the reader frustrated.
It feels a lot like Grossman combined all his favorite books and just added magic, sex and a lot of drinking. Part of the novel focuses on meticulous studying and magic that needs to be studied like neuroscience. It is an interesting concept and Grossman really makes the school about how complicated magic when not focusing on all the debuachery going on.
What this book lacks is direction and makes you wonder what the book is even about at times. If I wasn’t two thirds done with the book already, I would have stopped reading it because I lost interest which was weird. I was into the first half of the book because I expected something to come out of it but Grossman disregards it.
Lastly, what irritated me the most about this book was the characters. Quentin is supposed to be really smart but we don’t really see that from him. Instead we are told he is smart and never really shown it. And Quentin is depressed throughout the whole book. Grossman fails to explain to us exactly why Quentin in depressed. What he does tell us is not an actual answer but pretty words that have no real meaning. So when Quentin does something because he’s depressed, it doesn’t hold up. He’s given a crutch but the crutch might as well not exist. It doesn’t justify why he does things and makes for a horrible protagonist.
Reading this book was a rollercoaster ride for me and I don’t know if I would recommend it anyone. It’s messy and weird and doesn’t hold under scrutiny. The characters aren’t unique; a poor version of The Secret History by Donna Tartt cast of college students. I will not be reading the next installment in the series and over it.