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 Magicians: Summary
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 . There isn’t too much originality but he does dive into stuff that the other novels didn’t. And it almost works. Grossman has a lot of great ideas floating around in the novel 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 focuses on complicated magic when not focusing on all the debauchery 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. I lost interest and wasn’t invested in the plot anymore. I was into the first half of the book because I expected something to come out of it but Grossman disregards most of the beginning.
Lastly, what irritated me the most about The Magicians 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.
Quentin is depressed throughout the whole book and it doesn’t fit in with the plot. 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.