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The Magicians (Magicians, Bk 1)
The Magicians - Magicians, Bk 1
Author: Lev Grossman
A thrilling and original coming-of-age novel about a young man practicing magic in the real world. — 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 ...  more »
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ISBN-13: 9780670020553
ISBN-10: 0670020559
Publication Date: 8/6/2009
Pages: 416
  • Currently 3.4/5 Stars.

3.4 stars, based on 76 ratings
Publisher: Viking Adult
Book Type: Hardcover
Members Wishing: 21
Reviews: Member | Amazon | Write a Review

Top Member Book Reviews

reviewed The Magicians (Magicians, Bk 1) on + 158 more book reviews
Helpful Score: 8
I have such mixed feelings about this book, it's actually hard to write a review. The Magicians has a great hook: imagine the premise of Harry Potter, but played out among college-aged characters, with all the angst and sex and confusion that accompanies that life stage. Only, to complicated matters even further, add magic to the mix in the midst of the real-world and all its mundane struggles and disappointments.

The story follows Quentin (Q), a fairly typical young man that has never quite fit in. The one place he finds contentment and peace is in Fillory -- a magical land (very reminiscent of Narnia) that exists only between the covers of his favorite childhood book series. Or so it seems. As readers, we learn that there's a very good reason that Q has been unable to let go of the tales of Fillory. Magic is in his blood.

But just because he's bright and has knowledge of magic doesn't mean things come easy to Q. The magic in Grossman's book is hard won after years of work, study and mastery -- there's no simple incantation and flip of a wand. Instead of an admittance letter delivered by owl, Q has to endure grueling admissions exams to study at Brakebills. Over his course of study, he makes friends, falls in love, figures out his area of study in magic, and makes a fantastic pilgrimage that, for me, was the high point of the story.

I think my biggest problem with The Magicians was that I just didn't like Q. He is moody, immature and self-pitying through the entire book -- and somehow, he doesn't do any growing in the novel, despite his fantastic circumstances. You could argue that most of us are moody, immature and self-pitying while we're in college, but Q still really grated on me. It took me much longer than usual to get through this book, and I think my lack of enthusiasm for the main character was the main cause. I just didn't feel called to check in on him and see what he was up to.

Grossman's writing is one thing in this book that is truly magical. I loved the way he spun his sentences, and his descriptions are top-notch without being wordy for the sake of wordiness. I am not familiar with his blog or his work as a book reviewer, but I hope he plans to write more novels in the future. His writing style and ability to create a fantastic world in line with our everyday one are definitely worth a second look.
reviewed The Magicians (Magicians, Bk 1) on + 27 more book reviews
Helpful Score: 3
This book is wonderful. It is the story of a young man who gets into wizarding college. The difference between this and Harry Potter is that all of these characters are real people who have flaws. This book touches on Alice in Wonderland, Narnia, Harry Potter, and a few other major fantasies with a twist. I would recommend this book for people not just into fantasy, but psychological stories as well.
reviewed The Magicians (Magicians, Bk 1) on + 13 more book reviews
Helpful Score: 2
I was so very excited to find this book at my local library so I wouldn't have to wait through my place on the wishlist and it turns out I'm very glad it happened that way. I really wanted to like this book. The whole concept was intriguing but it didn't live up to its promise for me.
My best description is that it almost feels more like Quentin's LiveJournal or BlogSpot entries than a book. He never seems happy and is always complaining about something. I know that Grossman's version of magic is difficult on the par with Quantum Physics or Chaos Theory but you would think that it would make it all the more sweet when a spell was mastered but Quentin just reports his success matter of factly with no joy.

Everything about Quentin, Brakebills and the other students just seemed gray and flat. Sadly there was so little life or color in this book for me that I gave up on it. I never made it to Fillory.
reviewed The Magicians (Magicians, Bk 1) on + 260 more book reviews
Helpful Score: 1
The Magicians is frequently pitched as Harry Potter with college age kids, alcohol and sex. And like so many elevator pitches, its accurate on the surface, but not once you actually settle down and read it. I also think that because of this pitch it inspires such strong feelings to either love it or hate it. What’s it about? Its about Quentin Coldwater, a kid from Brooklyn who’s been the smartest in his class for years, likely the most miserable as well, and his going to a magical college called Brakebills for five years. And, yes it does involve self discovery, alcohol and magic. Outside of the surface similarities to a college age Harry Potter, it quickly diverges.

Quentin is a brilliant, if miserable, Brooklynite given the opportunity to take an entrance exam for a magical college for Brakebills when his interviewer for a scholarship dies. The exam is grueling, long and pretty fantastical in and of itself with animated drawings, created languages and on and on. Needless to say, Quentin gets in. Unlike Harry, magic does not make him happy in fact it seems to make him more miserable. He keeps expecting something bad to happen and take it all away from him, or to be found out as a fraud and on and on.

Magic is also very different. No faux Latin incantations here. Magic is demanding it requires incredible hand and finger motions, mastering various dead languages and knowing hundreds or thousands of various modifications depending on an equal number of variable circumstances that fill volumes. Sometimes its easier to just drive a nail using a hammer instead of using a spell. Getting all of these on a gut level is a demanding process of memorization and an exercise no one tells others about. Its also dangerous. One miscast spell in a lecture results in the summoning of The Beast, which stands off the combined efforts of the Brakebills faculty and eats one of the students.

Quentin’s time at Brakebills is interesting, but not the totality of the of the story. To me, the story only begins to get moving once the he graduates and moves to New York City with his friends. There an old acquaintance from school seeks them out with an opportunity to travel to Fillory, a imaginary land that has all but obsessed Quentin from childhood.

Now, while its been described as Harry Potter goes to college, The Magicians isn’t. Its a deconstruction of two series: Harry Potter (the obvious) and the Narnia books (Fillory). It takes them apart and doesn’t use anesthetic in the process. Fans of the two series will not be pleased in many cases. Its also meta-fictionally aware the characters know about Harry and Narnia and all the rest and act accordingly. So, if you love those two series, beware.

Quentin is almost an anti-Harry. Magic doesn’t free him, but complicates his life immensely. He’s also more than a bit annoying smug and miserable at the same time, frequently able to choose the worst thing to do. I’d be lying to say I don’t recognize him in the mirror some days.

Brakebills seems a bit like Hogwarts at first, drawing from a similar background, but more impersonal. The faculty seldom intrude on the students’ lives and when they do, they’re more like forces of nature.

Quentin’s fellow students are a pretty cold lot as well. They’re the best and brightest the U.S. has to offer, all chucked together with relatively little supervision and growing power. Its not Lord of the Flies, but it is the situation at Brakebills. The only ones with screen time are Quentin, Elliott, Penny, Alice and Janet, and they’re all pieces of work that I wouldn’t befriend.

Unlike most other modern and urban fantasies, Lev Grossman asks one big question that others are afraid to ask what do magicians do? And the answer seems to be, not a lot. Some try to improve the world with public and government service, but it seems a lot are at loose ends with all that power and esoteric knowledge. Its not a pretty picture.

Was the book worth it? Yest. I enjoyed it and may even read the sequel, The Magician Kings.

Likes: Brakebills; How to get to Fillory; Causality and all its problems; The mechanics of magic; What do magicians do when they graduate; The complexity of the situation in Fillory; Occasionally Quentin; The shout outs in the novel; Characters meta-fictional awareness.

Dislikes: Most of the characters; The fact that no matter what they did, they always screwed it up; The shout outs in the novel (because when you’re reduced to looking for Easter eggs, well…); Characters meta-fictional awareness; Either Lev Grossman being inconsistent or Quentin being an unreliable narrator.

Suggested for: Fans of Narnia and Harry Potter that can take the two series taking a hit; Urban fantasy fans that aren't paranormal romance fans; DC's Books of Magic/Tim Hunter fans; Fans of coming of age stories that aren’t always pretty and fans of the occasional parody.
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