Tuesday, January 5, 2010

New Release: The Magicians

I have had this book sitting on the table waiting for review for a month. I can see what Lev Grossman was trying to accomplish with The Magicians but I think that the book is mis-marketed. I also think that this novel was lacking one important thing -- a sense of magic.

Quentin is a high school senior, on his way to an alumni interview for college. When he arrives to find the interviewer dead and a mysterious paramedic hands him an envelope, there is no going back to a normal life. He chases a piece of paper down an alley and somehow ends up on the grounds of Brakebills College, a college of magic. As Quentin tries to learn spells and find what his magical strengths are, he also has to grow as a person and decide which parts of his youth to abandon and which to preserve.

I'm not sure exactly what to say about this book. I went into it hoping for something magical and ran into a depressing world of wasted talent and disappointment. I kept reading because I wanted to know what happened but then wished I could take it back at the end and not know. This was billed as an "adult Harry Potter" but there was none of the joy or hope that were present in that series. There was no battle of good and evil -- just the descent into mediocrity of a group of students with incredible potential. It also incorporates a large amount of a Narnia-like lore but in a bleak and terrifying way. The only adult thing about this book is the liberal sprinkling of profanity, liquor, drugs and sex. The characters themselves are immature and selfish.

I finished my reading of this book with a profound sense of sadness -- both for the characters in the book and because I didn't find what I was looking for. I read in an interview that Grossman wants to make this into a trilogy and I really couldn't say if I would read two more books set in this world or not. This book comes out in paperback in April.

Thinking that magic and joy are possible for all ages,

Support our site and buy The Magicians on Amazon or find it at your local library. We bought our own copy.


  1. In a way I liked the thing of wasted potential, because it seemed very true - I bet that is what would happen with a bunch of smart, gifted kids chucked out into the world like that. But I wouldn't read two more either, probably, unless the characters became a bit more sympathetic.

  2. I think every review I've read of this book has been disappointed in it for the very reasons you cite.

    And I don't see why people think there needs to be a Harry Potter for adults ... Harry Potter is just fine for adults as is!

  3. This book seemed so promising--I really like the concept of a more grown-up Harry Potter (although I agree with Jenners that HP is fine for adults, I'd be interested in a similar book that's more mature in tone). But practically everyone whose book judgment I trust about has disliked it, so I've marked it off my list.

  4. Jennysbooks - I think my problem with the wasted potential thing is that none of them seemed to even care. So it made me not care about them at all.

    Jenners - I have avoided most other reviews but seen a few good ones and I wonder what I missed because it's such a bleak book.

    Teresa - I went into the book thinking "I want to love this!" which is really a large source of my disappointment. I was thinking though that it might be impossible to avoid the tack this book took -- would an 18 year old be as excited as an 11 year old to find out he or she can do magic? Or would they be non-plussed and blase about it because they're teens.

  5. Yeesh. After this review and Steph's (of Step and Tony Investigate!) review, I'm thinking maybe I should have waited to buy this book. It doesn't sound promising at all when I had such high hopes. Ah, well. I might still give it a whirl, but if it doesn't do it for me in the first hundred pages I may put it back on the shelf for another time. So sorry to hear you didn't enjoy this one!


  6. JS - There certainly seems to be an audience for this book (as I've gone and read a bunch of reviews now) but it isn't the regular fantasy group. It's the fans of novels of ennui and bleak coming-of-age stories that seem to like this one.