The Magicians by Lev Grossman

Tuesday, June 9, 2015


The Magicians
If there's a single lesson that life teaches us, it's that wishing doesn't make it so.

After hearing so much about this trilogy, I had to get to it at some point. In general, I enjoy books about magic - I just don't read enough of them. The Magicians, the first book in this trilogy, starts off with Quentin revealing his immense obsession with the Fillory books, a fantasy series written by an author long dead. To say that he was obsessed is an understatement. Quentin fervently wished that the Fillory world was real, that he was living in it and not in the real world, which to him is very boring to him. He also mentions this through much of the book that you won't be forgetting that for the rest of your life.

Luckily for him, he gets an invite to attend a secret school, Brakebills Academy, in upstate New York, where all the invited students have to pass a series of tests before they can snag an admission to attend classes there. This school is secret because it teaches magic and only those who show an inclination to think outside the box or are fascinated with magic (even card tricks count) get invited in the first place. Quentin gets in and he spends the next four years of his life studying magic, hanging out with some of the best buddies he makes at school, and falling in love with Alice, another student at Brakebills. But all is not as well as it is made out to be. There are several parallel worlds of magic whose inhabitants can cross over to the world Quentin inhabits and vice versa. It is one such incident after graduation that forms the crux of this book.

Even though this book was on my list for a while, the real reason I stayed away from it for so long was because of the mixed reviews. And I have to say that I have ended on the bank of those who hated the book.

Everything every reviewer has ever said about Quentin is true - he happens to be a very annoying character and whines about his parents in every chapter. Also, he whines about anything and everything a lot too. None of the other characters were fleshed out well. For a book this size, I would expect to see some depth to the secondary characters.

Even the book was sloppily executed. Halfway through the book, I still had no idea where it was heading - there was neither a mystery nor a horizon to look forward to. Many times, an interesting plot thread was raised and then disposed of right away. Maybe they would be mentioned in the next book but it bummed me that there would be a few passages or pages dwelling on something only for it to disappear. Poof!

Unlike several books of fantasy, the world in The Magicians wasn't particularly fascinating. It left me wondering what these students did after all their magic lessons and what kind of careers they had. Grossman seemed to be suggesting that it's fine to obsess over a fantasy and do nothing with your life - because eventually you will be rewarded. That it was okay to hate your real world and live in a fantasy doing nothing - there is so much that is wrong with that idea. There was also too much objectifying of women. Sure, this book is from the perspective of a guy who craved sex and looked at women as sex objects, but there was so much poor portrayal of women that it didn't feel genuine but rather added in for entertainment. Honestly, all that sex turned me off - the author was trying to write a mature book but his protagonist is so immature that the writing felt very jarring.

Even though I had so much trouble with this book, The Magicians wasn't boring. I kind of wanted to know what the whole deal was about. (The author was just not revealing it.) But that was honestly the only respite for me. By the time I finished the book, I felt sorely disappointed, wondering if maybe I missed something. I don't feel inclined to continue with the series but Jenny let me know a few weeks back that the following two books are so much better and don't suffer from the problems that this one had. As relieving as that sounds to me, the first book does end very nicely - no cliffhangers or unanswered questions, which reduces my incentive to go pick the next one. I guess I'll read it much later when I have sufficiently forgotten about this one.


I borrowed this book from my library.

7 comments:

Jackie Bailey said...

I felt the same way as you. In fact I didn't even finish this book. I don't think the promise that the next two in the series are better even makes me curious. We can't love them all!

bermudaonion(Kathy) said...

I read this with an online book club I used to be in and I didn't care for it either. I've heard the rest of the series is better though.

Jenny @ Reading the End said...

Eh, I don't know! I haven't read the third one actually! I got it out of the library and discovered that I had no desire to read it at all. So you're probably fine stopping with just this one. The second book resolved a lot of the problems I had with the first book, for sure, and it was just a much better book, but in retrospect I have some issues with it as well. I dunno.

Belle Wong said...

Oh, dear. I've had this on my to-read list for ages, and have held off for much the same reasons you did. I will probably hold off a bit (or a lot) longer. Quentin doesn't sound particularly likable!

literaryfeline said...

You aren't inspiring me to pick up my copy and read it any time soon. LOL I guess I should be glad your friend says the next two books are better. Maybe that will help me through the first?

iliana said...

I remember hearing a lot about this book when it first came out but somehow I missed the part about it being one of a trilogy. Anyway, bummer that this one didn't work out for you. I have this one my shelf and just haven't gotten around to it. I feel like this is one of those I have to be in the mood for.

jen mullen said...

:) I hated it, too. Intensely disliked it.