The Magicians by Lev Grossman – Review

Cover- The Magicians

Published: August 11, 2009

Publisher: Viking

Genre: Fantasy

Pages: 402 (Hardcover)

My Rating: 4.0/5.0


Like everyone else, precocious high school senior Quentin Coldwater assumes that magic isn’t real, until he finds himself admitted to a very secretive and exclusive college of magic in upstate New York. There he indulges in joys of college-friendship, love, sex, and booze- and receives a rigorous education in modern sorcery. But magic doesn’t bring the happiness and adventure Quentin thought it would. After graduation, he and his friends stumble upon a secret that sets them on a remarkable journey that may just fulfill Quentin’s yearning. But their journey turns out to be darker and more dangerous than they’d imagined.

I wasn’t quite sure what to expect when I picked up The Magicians… I had heard some great things about it, but didn’t know much myself. The reviews on Goodreads were a mixed bag, but who really cares? Well, to be honest, I care. If people generally dislike a book, there’s usually a valid reason behind it. However, it was apparently good enough to become a TV series, which I MUST WATCH and I ended up liking the book, though with some reservations. (I have now watched the first two episodes and I really liked them!)

Personally, this was a mixed bag for me. The first third of the book was fantastic- there’s a really awesome school for magicians on the banks of the Hudson and it’s a bit like a more realistic version of Hogwarts. By that I mean it’s not overly romanticized- the characters have realistic, modern personalities. They’re both serious and irreverent and very cliquey. The school itself is like a private mansion turned Ivy League institution, with clubhouses and gloriously landscaped gardens and fountains. I’d love to go there myself, aside from having to wear a uniform. Brakebill’s (the school) is just really marvelous- the classes seem pretty grueling, but the sense of community is awesome. This segment of the novel covers 5 years of schooling in like 150 pages, so it’s not incredibly detailed, but you get the gist. The important parts are described in detail, but you don’t have to suffer through unnecessarily boring descriptions of lessons.

The second third however, was utterly despicable. I hated all the characters so much that I considered not continuing on. Quentin especially turned into a massive prick, who drank too much and wallowed in self loathing, all the while mistreating poor Alice. Janet and Eliot were much worse for the wear in this section as well. They clearly had problems while at Brakebills, but their shortcomings were magnified a hundred fold after graduation. Just as I was sure they couldn’t get any worse, Penny, a fellow classmate and oddball comes along and changes everything…

The last section of the book centers on Fillory, a world fictionalized in childhood novels loved by each character. The Narnia vibes were strong with this. It was kind of a joke how overtly similar it was to Narnia. Turns out, Fillory is another world that the character can travel to, though they have to use a magic button to get there. Of course, they go, but all is not quaint and tidy like in the children’s books. It’s actually a brutal and disturbing place where there’s some clear political turmoil going on. I liked that it was much darker than expected- it was a little amusing actually. This section of the book made up for the lackluster middle and made a great bridge for the second novel to build on to.

I’m pretty pleased with the story, though like I said before it was kind of mixed. If you’re looking to read a mash-up of Narnia, Hogwarts, and an urban fantasy you should check this out. It’s got some great worldbuilding and the characters develop really well- well enough that you dislike them and then they redeem themselves. The next novel in the series is titled The Magician King and I’m looking forward to what Fillory has in store next!


2 thoughts on “The Magicians by Lev Grossman – Review

  1. Agreed with everything! I loved the first part of this book and the magical school setting. I wished it had been like that the whole way through. But when the characters graduated and grew up, all I wanted to do was bash their heads together.


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