I have been meaning to read this book for a couple of years and only just got around to it, at this rate it will take several incarnations for me to finish my reading list. However, I am somewhat familiar with Lev Grossman’s writing, I have read many of his articles for Time magazine, and admired his witty writing style. However, the basic concept of the magicians did not look too enticing. A Hogwarts-ish college? It sounded a little derivative to me, even if Grossman adapted the style for a more mature readership. Still, it does seem to be quite popular among adult fantasy readers and as I said I like the author's style so here we finally are.
Having finished it, I can tell you that The Magicians
is much more than a pastiche of Harry Potter series, or C.S. Lewis’ [b:The Chronicles of Narnia|11127|The Chronicles of Narnia (Chronicles of Narnia, #1-7)|C.S. Lewis|https://d.gr-assets.com/books/1388178573s/11127.jpg|781271] from which Grossman also borrowed heavily. The Magicians
follows Quentin Coldwater a lonely high school graduate who stumbles upon “Brakebills”, a college of magic very similar to Hogwarts (and also the school for wizards in Ursula K. Le Guin’s [b:A Wizard of Earthsea|13642|A Wizard of Earthsea (Earthsea Cycle, #1)|Ursula K. Le Guin|https://d.gr-assets.com/books/1353424536s/13642.jpg|113603] which predates Harry Potter by decades). The major difference is The Magicians
’ adult language, sexual situations and some graphic violence. This book is certainly not a spoof or a mere imitation of the legendary fantasy series I mentioned. Grossman combines the tropes of the Harry Potter and Narnia series very well, and even manages to turn most of these tropes on their heads. The mechanics and philosophy of magic are quite cleverly imagined here.
The entire book is a breeze to read from beginning to end thanks to Levman’s excellent prose style which is often witty and touches upon literary at times. I have a couple of reservations however, the first half of the book feels too derivative of Harry Potter and Narnia. The concepts are no longer fresh even though they are cleverly utilized. My other reservation is with the protagonist Quentin Coldwater who I find rather unsympathetic. An unsympathetic antihero is fine but Quentin is not an antihero, he is a hero who makes mistakes that many teenagers and young adults do. However, I find him to be selfish, self-indulgent and a general pain in the ass. Even by the end of the book when he realized his errors I still do not find that he has redeemed himself. I think Grossman’s idea is to present a young man whose youthful impulses cause a lot of grief for himself and others. Unfortunately, I do not think Grossman endowed him with enough redeemable qualities for me to sympathize with his plight.
On the plus side, the second half of the book is quite a tremendous read as the main characters graduate from college and the Narnia-like element takeover from the wizardry training at Brakebills which was beginning to pall for me. I do not want to say too much about the second part and the thrilling climax of the book because there are some great surprises in store for you if you read it.
I am not entirely sure I will read the subsequent volumes of this Magicians series, I am sure that if I do I will enjoy the books because of the author’s prose style, imagination and storytelling skill. However, I do not care enough about the characters to follow their adventures and there are several other series I am more invested in.
I can easily recommend The Magicians
as an enjoyable read with the caveats that I mentioned, they are by no means deal-breakers. Certainly if you are into the “school of magic” type of fantasy this book should do nicely.