4 Rated Books Book Reviews

Book Review: The Magicians by Lev Grossman

Title: The Magicians

Author: Lev Grossman

Genre: Fantasy

Publisher:William Heinemann Ltd (UK) / Viking (US)
Publishing Date: May 2009 / August 2009
Paperback/ Hardcover: 416 pages

Stand Alone or series: Stand alone with rumours of a sequel

Why did I read the book: I have wanted to read the book since it first came out and after so many positive reviews. A lot of reviewers mention this as one of the best of the year.

How did I get the book: Bought it.

Summary: Quentin Coldwater is brilliant but miserable. He’s a senior in high school, and a certifiable genius, but he’s still secretly obsessed with a series of fantasy novels he read as a kid, about the adventures of five children in a magical land called Fillory. Compared to that, anything in his real life just seems gray and colorless.

Everything changes when Quentin 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 practice of modern sorcery. He also discovers all the other things people learn in college: friendship, love, sex, booze, and boredom. But something is still missing. Magic doesn’t bring Quentin the happiness and adventure he thought it would.

Then, after graduation, he and his friends make a stunning discovery: Fillory is real.

Review: I have wanted to read this book for months now. We were supposed to write a joint review and I keep sending weekly emails to Thea asking “so, when can we read The Magicians” – but other reading commitments kept us from finally getting to it. With the end of the year upon us, I felt the urgency even more so I just went ahead and read it. I kind of expected The Magicians to knock my socks off and maybe even make my top 10 of 2009.

Boy, was I wrong. Delusional. The experience of reading this book turned out to be one of the strangest experiences of my reading life. From the very first pages, I felt a mix of anger and downright revulsion towards the book and its main character Quentin; I had the weirdest, most negative reaction and the only reason I kept reading till the end was so that I could have all the information necessary to write this review.

The easiest route to summarise The Magicians is perhaps to say what a lot of reviews already said: this is what Harry Potter or Narnia would be like if their characters were on drugs , or drunk or both. But I would go further: The Magicians is like every Fantasy novel if they were stripped of any warmth, sense of wonder, heroism and replacing it all with what can be interpreted as a dose of “reality”.

Basically, the plot follows the main character, a depressed (god only knows why) guy called Quentin who is a smart, handsome, 17 year old, as he learns that there is real magic in world, just like in the books he loves. Instead of going to Princeton as he was supposed to, he is invited to attend a school of magic, ‘Brakebills College for Magical Pedagogy’ and the story follows his days at the school until he graduates, then has to go back to the real world and then to Fillory, an alternate world out of children’s books.

“Real” is very much the key word here and the fundamental theme of the book: what would happen if there was magic but not a “big bad” to fight? What if there was a hidden world of wonders, of people who had these abilities? What would be the point?

Well, obviously, people would get drunk, take drugs and have sex. Duh. Because there is NOTHING else in the entire wide world that you could possibly do. Because you see, magic is HARD.

The clear attempt of taking the Fantasy and making it less fantastic by adding an element of “reality” to it, in order to tell us that hey, “life is in shades of grey people, there is no black and white” is as trite and lacking subtlety as if the author was trying to do just the opposite. In trying, too hard in my opinion, to infuse this Fantasy with bleakness and edginess, the author removes any and all chance of me, ever connecting with his characters or with the plot.

Going even further with that, I am left wondering about certain aspects of the story. For example: in order to enter the school, all these kids, are taken from their world, without a moment’s notice, to take a test, and should they pass, they get to attend this school which is hidden from the regular world. None of them even blinks when that happens. Later down the road, they get to visit Fillory, a world which up to that point they thought was fictional but they take that in stride and are ready to jump into it and live the stories they read as children.

The assumption made is that since they all like to read Fantasy novels, this new reality comes so easily to them because they are used to the idea of Fantasy – and that to me, was so freaking insulting as a Fantasy reader, I can’t even express myself coherently. It is as though, Fantasy readers can’t tell reality from fantasy and are so immersed in their escapism that well, if ever confronted with the imaginary world, turned real, not one would ever think about it for two seconds. I am left with a very sour taste in my mouth, one that comes from feeling like I was being mocked by the author. Maybe that was not his intent. Maybe he tried to criticise the genre and I am totally missing the point. Given the universal praise this book received it might well be. I do know that it didn’t work for me.

That this book has a “message” is clear to me, though. Even more so when every single aspect of the Fantasy world is unoriginal and lifted from other Fantasy novels. The school is Harry Potter’s Hogwarts; Fillory and its mythology is Narnia down to a “t”. It is as though Lev Grossman didn’t even try to come up with a Fantasy world of his own because he was more interested in a message than in storytelling. This message is more important than everything else that some things are completely glossed over: there is a student who dies in the middle of a lesson and nothing ever comes out of it. The students are at one point transformed into geese and foxes but again, very little comes from this experience; they are completely pointless and there for shocking effect, especially their time as foxes .

The bottom line is this: I absolutely HATE to read books that try this hard to tell me something. Especially when they try to tell me that life is hard. I am alive. I KNOW that. Tell me a story in shades of grey but do so in a less blatant way, please.

Regarding the characters: Taking it a step further from the questions asked above, if a young man is unhappy in his life, what would it take to make him happy? Would living his dream do it? Would discovering that the world he thought was fictional was actually real make any difference? The answer according to The Magicians is, no.

And this is essentially IT: Quentin is a depressed guy, a guy who struggles to find a place in the world, a guy who is full of resentment but who has a sense of entitlement; who is granted his heart’s desire and still, he can’t be happy. And so page after page, we read about this guy in school, with his friends, with his girlfriend whining about how miserable he is. Even when he finds out that the world of Fillory, the world from the books he loves to read is REAL and THERE for him, still he manages to make a mess out of it. Does that make him a flawed, real character? Yes, it does. Do I want to read about him? Hell, noes. He is a total tool.

Because frankly, there is nothing I hate more than to read about a privileged kid (rich, handsome, ultra smart and powerful. Hey, Marty Sue!) constantly whining about his life.

And THIS, THIS is what made me so repulsed. Quentin is my worst nightmare coming to haunt me: he is Holden Caulfield all over again. I have no sympathy for Holden as I have no sympathy for Quentin. From the moment I realised that, The Magicians had no chance with me – this review is every bit a reflection about me as a reader and what I like or don’t like. Catcher in the Rye is one of my least favourite books ever. And The Magicians reminds me a lot of it.

I feel so strongly about Quentin that I almost wished that he was actually suffering from medical depression in which case he could be treated with anti-depressants. I almost wished that everything in this book was happening inside his head. Almost, because really, I couldn’t.Care.Less .

As for the secondary characters, I only really liked Alice, Quentin’s love interest; in fact she might be my favourite character in the book. Flawed, strong, driven Alice, she is ironically, the only one to have called Quentin on his bullshit.

The rest was only there to fill pages with required stereotypes. And I have a huge problem with Elliot, one of Quentin’s friends. You see, Elliot is gay. So then, obviously, he likes to dress up really well, loves to cook and has S/M tendencies and I find that insulting as hell. Not to mention, lazy characterisation.

Having said that: the book is completely readable; I did enjoy his writing and there were turns of phrase that I did really like. And I am happy that I stuck to it and finished the book because toward the end, there is a revelation that makes the story, at least, bearable. Just. But ultimately, and rather unfortunately, The Magicians did not live up to my expectations, and that is to put it very mildly.

Notable Quotes/ Parts:

He had done it. Magic was real, and he could do it.

And now that he could, my God, there was so much of it to do. The glass marble would be Quentin’s constant companion for the rest of the semester. It was the cold, pitiless glass heart of Professor March’s approach to magical pedagoy. Every lecture, every exercise, every demonstrantion was concerned with how to manipulate and transform it using magic. For the next four months Quentin was required to carry his marble everywhere. He fingered his marble under the table at dinner. It nestled in the inside pockets of his Brakebills jacket. When he showered, he tucked it in the soap dish. He took it to bed with him, and on those rare occasions when he slept he dreamed about it.

Verdict: The good writing is not enough to make me like a book that comes with such a blatant, bleak message. The Fantasy world is unoriginal and the main character is unappealing.

Rating: 4 – Bad but not without some merit

Reading next: Going Bovine by Libba Bray

49 Comments

  • Lenore
    November 27, 2009 at 3:24 am

    I was never really that interested in this one and now I know I won’t read it. If I actively hate Quentin just from reading your review…

  • Liz
    November 27, 2009 at 3:54 am

    I genuinely struggled reading Codex so when The Magicians came out, although I thought I’d like it, I realised I’d have issues with the author’s writing, and decided to walk away from it.

    I think this is a really clever, intelligent review, setting things out the way you felt about it.

    So, good job, Ms. Smuggler!

  • Meghan
    November 27, 2009 at 4:40 am

    I could just leave a one word comment – yes. You expressed so many of my frustrations about this book. To my mind, Quentin is one of the most annoying characters I have ever come across. He’s just constantly unhappy about everything. This is not a book for people who enjoy fantasy, I think it’s a book for people who look down on it.

  • hwm
    November 27, 2009 at 6:07 am

    Thank you sooo much. You’ve confirmed my suspicions. When I first heard about the novel and listened to an interview with the author, I knew I wouldn’t like because of the same reasons. Then everyone started praising the novel and I wasn’t sure anymore. I’m glad I didn’t end up buying it.

    Again, thank you for your clear thoughts and for not falling into the chorus.

  • R. J. Anderson
    November 27, 2009 at 7:06 am

    I was already fairly certain I didn’t want to read this book, but this review clinches it. Thank you for taking that bullet.

  • Jeff
    November 27, 2009 at 7:31 am

    It’s like Less Than Zero, except there are wizards. Which is what attracted me to it, since I do like Bret Ellis and I do like books with wizards in them. But ultimately, you’re right – it’s just a miserable book that never manages to move past its initial conceit. There were a few clever things in the beginning that charmed me, like the “make up a language, translate this text into it and then translate it back to english” part of the entrance exam.

  • AnimeJune
    November 27, 2009 at 9:20 am

    I was halfway through your review, thinking “Wow, this Quentin guys sounds like Holden” when BAM I came across that in your review! I never enjoyed “Catcher in the Rye” either, and it sounds like I would DESPISE “the Magicians.”

    Judging from your review – I think another book to avoid would be “The Glass Books of the Dream Eaters” by Gregory Dalquist – because I think it tries to do something similar: essentially, use the tropes of a genre (fantasy and sci-fi) that the author clearly doesn’t respect or enjoy to put forward a message that is “more meaningful” than “simple” fantasy or sci-fi could do on its own. God’s gift to us genre reader cretins!

    PLEASE Lev Crossman and Gregory Dalquist, save us from ourselves, save us from our silly fantasy stories that you OBVIOUSLY believe to be so cutesy and formulaic!

    Yuck. Thank you for a wonderful and enlightening review Ana!

  • Ana
    November 27, 2009 at 9:30 am

    Thanks for all the comments! It is good to see that I am not alone – what with the seemly univerval praise this book has got.

    Jeff – yes, i thought that part was interesting as well. But yeah…..short lived.

    AJ – OH please do join Thea and I in the “We hate Holden” club. That is another thing that brought Thea and I together! 😀

  • katiebabs
    November 27, 2009 at 9:51 am

    Sounds like Grossman was trying to channel some Harry Potter and it failed.

    *Shudder fox lurve*

  • Aidan from A Dribble of Ink
    November 27, 2009 at 9:53 am

    Wow.

    I just posted my review, where I declared it my favourite books of 2009. It’s interesting to see such a polar opposite reaction, especially since it’s the characters that caused us both to react so strongly towards it.

    ~Aidan
    A Dribble of Ink

  • Ana
    November 27, 2009 at 9:59 am

    I read your review Aidan and I was amused because the reasons why I disliked it are the reasons why you loved it so much. I think that is because, as readers, we are in opposite ends of the spectrum when it comes to characters: If I recall correctly this happened earlier this year with Angel’s Game by Carlos Ruiz Zafon as well? 🙂

  • Mark Chadbourn
    November 27, 2009 at 10:35 am

    Very intelligent and perceptive review. I won’t comment on the story (haven’t read it yet), but there was one thing you wrote that really struck a note with me: even though you weren’t liking the book, you continued to the end to do a proper job on the review. That is truly professional, and I think all authors would salute you, regardless of what you thought of their work.

  • Danielle
    November 27, 2009 at 10:42 am

    FINALLY someone shares my loathing of Holden. I had to sit through that damn book twice and GODAMNIT I got mad.

    Thanks for the heads-up

  • Larry
    November 27, 2009 at 10:59 am

    Like Aidan, it was interesting to see things that I considered to be strengths in this novel be considered to be loathsome in your review, Ana. I wonder if much of this might be due to reading preferences and outlooks on life (I know I enjoyed reading Bret Easton Ellis’s first two novels and his last one and those sorts of stories appeal to me). Considering that I found the Holden archetype to be appealing (Bukowski and Alberto Fuguet touch upon this well in Bukowski’s Ham on Rye and Fuguet’s Mala Onda/Bad Vibes), maybe much of the story revolves around how one views such character types?

    But to put it in another light – the polarizing responses to the novel might just be a sign that Grossman has created something that touches nerves not found in too many novels lately. After all, there is no “happy medium” to be found here and perhaps his story is meant to reflect troubling concerns raised in other stories (especially those stories outside genre conventions)?

  • Aidan from A Dribble of Ink
    November 27, 2009 at 11:16 am

    Larry, I think that’s the exact success of Grossman’s novel. It elicits strong emotions and opinions from everyone who reads it. I haven’t seen a single review where the reviewer was blasé about it, they always either love it or hate it. If that isn’t success for a novelist, I don’t know what is.

  • Ana
    November 27, 2009 at 12:36 pm

    @ Mark Chadbourn – Oh wow. Thank you. You sir, are a gentleman.

    @ Larry and Aidan – yes, Larry , definitely my reaction comes from the types of characters I like (or don’t like) to read. I am a reader who usually prefers character-centric novels and I gravitate towards those I can relate to, or care for. Quentin and Holden (and I didn’t like reading Bukowski either) are definitely examples of charactesr I don’t care for, mostly because I don’t understand their motivation. Actually, scrap that, these characters to me, don’t have any – there is no explanation for their behaviour or for their feelings making them utterly alien to me. That is not to say that I don’t like “dark”, “angst” or “bleak” characters or stories, because I do. I just think those examples and The Magicians in particular are bleak and dark for bleakness and darkness sake. There isn’t a plot , there isn’t a cohesive story, only a collection of bitter moments. That is not clever writing to me, that is actually the opposite – boring.

    But I think you are both right about the book eliciting such strong, disparate reactions that enable discussion – and a good one at that. So thanks for stopping by!

  • Jeff
    November 27, 2009 at 12:41 pm

    I think the motivation for these types of characters is this: Sometimes people are just terrible and there’s no explanation for it.

    It’s like the ending of a Coen brothers movie.

  • Ana
    November 27, 2009 at 12:45 pm

    LOL – Jeff, to the point. Probably the reason why I am not a HUGE fan of some of the Coen brothers movies either. 😆

  • Larry
    November 27, 2009 at 1:53 pm

    I disagree. Those characters do have a sort of “motivation”; each are driven by ennui. Privileged backgrounds, yes, but at the cost of mistaking the fight to find some sense of “relevancy” for a fight to find meaning. Sometimes, I wonder if these type of characters are too “male,” as in there might not be a good feminine analogue for their struggles. I’ve battled something similar to that in my past, so perhaps I see their world-weary cynicism and self-centered dysthymia as being very relevant to the stories, as these “bad spells” shape not just character understandings of what’s happening around them, but gives a window of sorts for readers to try and grasp what the hell is “wrong” with these people.

  • Ana
    November 27, 2009 at 3:17 pm

    I don’t think this is a gender issue at all – as an existential issue it probably applies to both. I have known people with ennui in real life and I admit to not being able to understand or relate to them – you say that ennui is a motivation but what does motivate the ennui? Ennui is usually boredom and dissatisfaction and I simply don’t understand that when it comes to privileged (rich, smart, capable) adults (meaning: with freedom to be able to actively seek to overcome the boredom). In fiction, from my reading experience, this goes beyond a “a bad spell”.Generally , a character like that rarely overcomes it making the story more about wallowing in dissatisfaction than about anything else. Again, as a reader, that is not something that I am particularly interested on.

  • Larry
    November 27, 2009 at 6:04 pm

    I’m not sure it isn’t to some degree, or rather that I don’t think it’s an accident that the authors (males) have touched a nerve with some (but not all) male readers with a depiction of said characters. The “motivation” in terms of plot is exploring how such characters deal with this sense of frustration, loneliness, lack of purpose, and so forth. The plot isn’t as much about what happens but how said characters interpret what’s going on. If the reader can relate with this, I think such stories might be captivating. But if a reader doesn’t…well, I’d imagine that there might be a visceral disgust/dislike of such personages.

  • MimsySnark
    November 27, 2009 at 7:32 pm

    I was blown away by The Magicians. I’m a 20-something woman who loves fantasy (LotR above all!), but I still loved the Magicians and I can assure you that Mr. Grossman is not writing this because he “hates” fantasy or looks down on the people who read it. He was able to portray so many tropes of fantasy so well precisely because he loves them. The Magicians was probably the most personal book I’ve ever read–I was simultaneously deeply troubled by how much I related to the characters, and relieved to realize that Mr. Grossman knows what it’s like–that I’m not alone. And it wasn’t all bleakness and depression, anyway. There was a lot of playful humor, and I disagree with those who say there was no sense of wonder or pleasure at the fantasy worlds that are uncovered.
    Clearly, this is a very personal book that, at the very least, reveals something important about the reader.

  • Rhiannon Hart
    November 28, 2009 at 12:47 am

    Wow, sounds like the author took all the magic out of magic and all the fantasy out of fantasy. How mean! Won’t be going near this one.

  • scheng1
    November 28, 2009 at 3:35 am

    I love that part about “magic is real”, that’s the best summary for fantany genre

  • Diana Peterfreund
    November 28, 2009 at 7:09 am

    I love how Aidan’s review is like “fantasy people like scenes where folks turn into foxes, literature people like cocaine.”

    Thanks for the laugh!

  • Cara Powers
    November 30, 2009 at 12:43 pm

    Well said. I am so completely with you. I also found Grosman’s message to be “To be a grown up, you must be an existentialist.” Ick! 👿

  • Peter V. Brett
    November 30, 2009 at 6:27 pm

    This book has been on my to-buy list for a while, if for no other reason than Grossman’s brother Austin wrote the novel Soon I Will Be Invincible, which is awesome.

    Seeing the passion it raised in both you and Aidan makes me want to read it all the more, even though I never had much patience for Holden Caulfield either.

  • Anon
    December 2, 2009 at 4:58 pm

    I read this book a few months ago and hated it. You have expressed exactly ‘why’ I felt about it the way that I did. Quentin was an arrogant entitled pain and he just got worse and worse. I kept reading hoping that it would get better but it didn’t.

    BTW, there are a few negative reviews out there. Mine for one. We may not be ‘professionals’ but we are readers and our opinions are valid.

    This strikes me as a book that critics who like literary downers like…actual readers not so much.

  • Fantasy Blogosphere: December 6, 2009 | Fantasy Book News
    December 6, 2009 at 5:05 am

    […] Review: The Magicians by Lev Grossman @ The Book Smugglers […]

  • SonomaLass
    December 6, 2009 at 3:44 pm

    @MimsySnark: Thanks for correcting the mistaken impression (NOT in the original review, but in some of the comments) that Grossman does not understand or hates fantasy. This book clearly elicits some strong reactions at both ends of the spectrum, but Grossman himself has said that this is a tribute to the fantasy genre he loves, so I don’t think impugning his motivation is legitimate.

  • Rambling – On The Magicians by Lev Grossman « Dazed Rambling
    December 9, 2009 at 8:59 pm

    […] In the past few weeks, as more reviews and commentary have begun to appear on forums and a few blogs, I have once again been drawn back into thinking about the book and my position on it. I am more […]

  • JVjr
    December 27, 2009 at 9:23 am

    I, too, hated Holden Caulfield so I’m glad I’m not alone; but one of the reasons was that he (or perhaps the author in the 50es) didn’t even have guts to have sex 🙂 Seeing this polarization (the not-too-bright book reviewer of the leading Czech newspaper disliked it, there were some good responses from not-too-bright genre reviewers) intrigued me enough to want to read The Magicians for myself.

  • Cinderella
    January 15, 2010 at 1:59 am

    Dear Smuggler! I’m writing to you from a Spanish blog so sorry for my bad English :'(

    I’m so happy to see that I’m not the only one who seems to “hate” this book. I got The Magicians as a Christmas present and I was excited because I love fantasy literature. When I begun reading it I felt depressed and I searched for reviews in other blogs. I couldn’t understand why such a book, published by a very important Publisher (here in Spain), hadn’t any review about it. Only few Spanish blogs talked about the strange front page and a little resume of the story (the same you can read everywhere), but no one wrote from the experience of reading it. So I googled in English and I found many, plenty, hundreds of reviews and, more or less, everyone told the same: they disliked deeply the book. I was specially happy with your review because it’s so complete! It says everything I thought about the book so I could finish it (as you did: only to get every single information about it to criticize it without leaving things unsaid). I took some paragraphs from your review to post them on my blog because you told perfectly what I would say about it (I hope you don’t mind. Of course I put a link to your review! See on: http://seshatevneib.blogspot.com/2010/01/los-magos-de-lev-grossman-una-broma-del.html).

    I can’t stand this book. I can’t understand how the writer can use stories and things from writers such as Rowling, Carrol, Lewis or Tolkien, to make a big “joke” of their works, creations of writers who received (and continue receiving) a big recognition. Never mind, I hope Grossman didn’t hat that purpose in mind. As I said in my review, I hope teenagers won’t read that book because plenty of them are easily influenced and they could learn by reading this to live a desperate live without hopes or dreams. On the other hand, I can’t understand how someone like Grossman, can commit “mistakes” such as presenting characters without a past live, without explaining why they are as they are, why they live without hope… Never mind, I only want to say that I liked very much your review and that I’m 100% in agreement with you. Good job!

  • An Aside | ‘The Magician King’ by Lev Grossman announced, sequel to ‘The Magicians’ | A Dribble of Ink
    January 22, 2010 at 8:36 am

    […] – and had a similarly mixed reception. Critics seemed to either love it or hate it. I fell firmly into the ‘love it’ camp, naming it my favourite book published in 2009. […]

  • A review of Lev Grossman’s THE MAGICIANS « The Magic Echo Chamber
    February 3, 2010 at 6:14 am

    […] wouldn’t I like The Magicians, you ask? Well, there was this review from Ana at The Book Smuggler. I stumbled upon it and it made me think this might not be a book for […]

  • Bittercup
    June 28, 2010 at 6:33 pm

    I just finished this book and I’m so glad to see that I’m not alone in how much I dislike it. Holden = Quentin = entitled. I read it to the end as well but it felt like the book that would never end–I kept counting how many pages I had left.

    And yes, Alice was great. 😀

  • Fantasy Book News » Blog Archive » Fantasy Blogosphere: December 6, 2009
    October 9, 2010 at 6:34 am

    […] Review: The Magicians by Lev Grossman @ The Book Smugglers […]

  • Sammi and Ronnie were sweethearts « Make Tea Not War
    April 15, 2011 at 10:00 pm

    […] outgrow the disastrous haircut and unfortunate highlights of last year, and I just finished reading a depressing book I really hated I’ve also been working much harder than I like at work recently so instead of spending my […]

  • sportske
    October 15, 2011 at 10:16 am

    Normally I do not read post on blogs, but I would like to say that this write-up very forced me to try and do so! Your writing style has been amazed me. Thank you, very nice post.

  • Halfway Through Review: The Magicians by Lev Grossman | Aliens in This World
    June 4, 2012 at 5:33 pm

    […] This brilliant reviewer agrees: “Quentin is my worst nightmare coming to haunt me: he is Holden Caulfield all over […]

  • Confession and Resolution « Eraser Marks and Inkstains
    January 11, 2013 at 7:12 pm

    […] today when I read Foz’s review (and by extension Ana from The Book Smugglers’ review), it instantly verbalized all those uneasy feelings and misgivings I had about The Magicians and […]

  • Ben
    January 31, 2013 at 7:22 pm

    I found The Magicians (and The Magician King) to be highly readable. I think grossman explores a nice range of fantasy tropes (if ripping off Narnia a little too blatantly – Eliot says at the end of MK ‘once a king or queen of Fillory…’ – the amusing thing is that Harry Potter is referenced more than once as fantasy) and, let’s be honest, realistic characters. You may not like or sympathise with Quentin – I didn’t much – but in some ways that makes the story less contrived. You just observe the events of the story. I wasn’t a huge fan of Grossman’s skipping forward in time in The Magicians, but I think he’s constructed a gripping story which addresses all those questions one privately ponders about Harry Potter, and indeed Narnia. It’s not high swashbuckling fantasy – it’s cynical, 21st century fantasy with all the trappings.

  • Shelley Nishimura
    November 14, 2014 at 1:28 pm

    This was a spot on review/summary for me. But besides the issues noted in the excellent critique of the book’s narrative structure, themes, and tropes, I found other things to be problematic. The book itself was readable (even “highly readable” as many have noted), but Quentin is just . . . unbearable. At one point I was so angry at him, that I considered just tossing the book to the side. In particular, the women blaming in this book is just ugly. How is Alice “despoiled”? Because she sleeps with Penny? Sorry, spoiler. And Quentin tries to make sense of it (for himself, obviously) by asking if it were rape. Then he denigrates Julia at the end – just why? And Jane is the villain? Did this guy not just realize that HE was the problem? I suppose that there is room for growth for this character, but really – not sure if I care enough to read the 2 novels following it.

  • Ariel
    April 2, 2015 at 12:50 am

    I love this review. I have to read it for a class and i have been skimming since the first couple of chapters. I don’t think this really qualifies as a fantasy novel because it could very well be explained that they are all being drugged (not that any of them would know the difference being the bored privileged constantly ON something). The so-called reality it tries to infuse is complete bogus. Sure there are definitely rich privileged people that are never happy, do constant substance abuse, and have twisted sexual lives, but what does ANY of that have to do with “the magic”? Which is hardly the focus of the actual book. I feel like my childhood fantasy novels were not only ripped off but put in a delightful bubble of absolute existential depression. Gaahhh.

    Thank you so much for your review, I feel rightly vindicated. I have absolutely no freaking idea how this got popular. You have given me strength to finish this horrendousness (i plan on skimming to the end). I just can’t believe there are two sequels……god help us……

  • Review: The Magicians by Lev Grossman | Roadside Reader
    April 4, 2015 at 4:16 pm

    […] the Book Smugglers – ?? […]

  • Jay Nielson
    June 11, 2015 at 8:03 pm

    I know I am coming late to this discussion, but I am soooo glad someone else disliked this book the way I did. The author just seemed to rip off other writers. Seemed very lazy. Only kept reading it because I am a gluten for punishment. Thanks for the post, and for reminding me that I am not the only person in the world that didn’t like it.

  • Anonymous
    June 14, 2015 at 9:18 pm

    Jay, are you C29H37N5O9, C24H27N5O6 or C30H38N6O7? And only as regards punishment? 😀

  • Review: The Magicians by Lev Grossman - Roadside Reader
    January 9, 2016 at 8:33 pm

    […] the Book Smugglers – ?? […]

  • steve
    April 6, 2016 at 9:43 pm

    What do you recommend as great harry potter-type books. I had the same problem with The Magicians- tries hard to be magical- but falls flat and doesn’t keep me motivated to go further.
    I’ve read all of the harry potter books; Jonathan stroud (Bartimaeus trilogy series); Anne Rice (vampires series- lestat);
    Please help, advise me of books with exciting stories that are harry potter, anne rice, stroud…..

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.