The Magicians by Lev Grossman

A quick rundown… Quentin is a morose teenage boy, lost in a fantasy world of childhood books when he finds out he’s a magician and is accepted into magician college.

Strengths: It’s a bit like an adult Harry Potter.

Weaknesses: After Quentin leaves college, it gets boring – like an endless Final Fantasy battle.

Why I read it: Book club book

Pages: 402

Published: 2009

Publisher: Arrow

Setting: America and mythical worlds

Rating: 6 out of 10

Readers of my reviews would know by now that I’m not a big fan of fantasy books. I can handle time travel (like the Outlander series) and Harry Potter, but not much else. Maybe I’m just lazy when it comes to learning strange new worlds; maybe I can only handle the world we live in. So when the leader of my book club sold this as a ‘grumpier Harry Potter with drinking’, I was interested because you can never have enough Harry Potter, right?

Not really. Quentin is nothing like Harry Potter – he’s eternally morose and on the outer with the real world, so when he finds out that he is a magician and has been accepted to an otherworldly college, you would think he’d be happy. But he’s not. He’s still stressed, obsessing over spells, girls, strange events and what it all means. Plus, he can’t lose his childhood dream that the Fillory fantasy books are real. Nobody believes him until later, when some of his friends start investigating magically whether Fillory is real. This starts them off on a new tangent (other than smoking, sex and drinking, which they seem to do a lot of) which has huge consequences.

For me, this is an odd book. It starts off like Harry going to Hogwarts (but an adult version), which I really enjoyed. Then after Quentin leaves college, it’s really boring – little happens except he and all his friends drink and sleep around. Then, they use their magic to find themselves in a fantasy world, which is like those Final Fantasy battles over and over. After this, everything seems to normalise and the book looks like it’s about to end. Unfortunately, the actual ending really made me want to throw the book against the wall and scream to Quentin, “Did you not learn ANYTHING?”

Quentin’s not a likeable guy – he doesn’t seem excited or satisfied by anything, even when his biggest fantasies turn out to be true. He just shrugs and slouches off to the next thing to get cranky over. There are more interesting, quirky characters than him, but unfortunately they all get be killed off. In the end, I thought Quentin was a dill – and I didn’t really care whether he made the same mistakes again. (There is a sequel to this book, which I don’t plan on reading – it’s called The Magician King. I just read the synopses to see if my suspicions were right).

I found the battle sequences incredibly drawn out and hard to keep track of. The fact that I didn’t really care for most of the characters doing battle didn’t help. It would have been nicer if they were faster paced and different instead of enemy-fight-defeat and repeat. The narrative gets quite dark in this section – it would have been useful to have a lighter plot thread running concurrently to escape from the battle monotony.

Grossman does have some cool thoughts about magic – some of his thoughts on the basis of magic almost make sense! There’s no eye of a newt here – it’s all quite ‘scientific’. The college lessons were my favourite where the students were learning the spells.

Unfortunately, this book doesn’t do anything to change my idea of fantasy, just reinforce the parts I don’t like. It’s a pity, because the magician college idea is a good one, but the novel just lacked happiness.

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