As promised, I finished The Magicians Tuesday night, and Book Club met last night to discuss. It was another thin showing for the Clubbers, with only three of us in attendance, but the conversation was lively, and surprisingly on topic. The Magicians gave us a lot to talk about.
Now, I’ve been thinking about how to handle this review for a couple days now, and I’m warning you, it’s going to be different. Instead of blathering on in excruciating detail, as per usual, I’m going to talk more about the book’s effect and feel. There are simply too many subtle, crucial details throughout the novel to sum them up here in anything close to a satisfying way.
So, this book review isn’t likely to be as spoiler heavy. I feel safe in saying you can read on without concern.
So, a few things to know up front about this book. Many critics tout it as “Harry Potter goes to college” or “Potter for adults”. I find both of those sentiments to be grossly generalizing of each series. Really, the only thing these books have in common is a male protagonist, a group of devoted friends, and a magical educational institution. Quentin has nothing in common with Harry, and though Alice could be a parallel for Hermione, she’s too much of her own character to really make that connection stick.
Another thing to understand about this series is that, though magic is clearly very important, it is by no means what this series is about. As far as I can tell after reading the first book, this series is about battling the constant ennui that is the side effect of unrealistic expectations.
A friend explained it as if Narnia and Harry Potter had a 90s crack baby.
So, through what seems an odd set of circumstances, Quentin is accepted to an elite magical college called Brakebills. He has intense classes, and he’s of course a brilliant student, or he wouldn’t be there. But, the actual rules and definitions of magical study are left to the reader’s imagination. Very little time in scene is spent in classrooms.It was nice, and a bit strange. I expected to see more of the day to day grind of magical coursework. Instead we’re given brief glimpses of awkwardly dexterous fingers and snippets of archaic languages woven into spells. It’s all very vague.
Quentin’s time at Brakebills takes up a HUGE portion of the book. Over half of the book is spent following him and his small group of friends through their school days. But, eventually they graduate and leave for Manhattan. It’s not until they’re there, in the last 150ish pages, that the story really unfolds.
And it’s right about then that I absolutely hated Quentin.
And it’s something that I really liked about the book. You see, you don’t hate Quentin at the beginning. You think, things will get better, he just needs to live a little. And the story goes on, and nothing is ever really good enough for him. He has spurts of happiness, but he always ends up spiraling back down into this all-consuming dissatisfaction. And in Manhattan, he hits rock bottom.
As much as I hated Quentin, I loved that the book could make me feel that way. Because I really hated Quentin. A lot. And I continued to hate him until about the last 20 pages. Up until then I vowed that I wouldn’t read the next two books in the trilogy, because I didn’t care what happened to the little jerk. But, by the time I closed the book I knew I had to read them.
So, really, serious applause needs to go to Lev Grossman for toying with my emotions so masterfully.
Some other things to mention if you plan to read this book. It’s weird. It’s not a bad weird, but some things happen that seem very strange, and they get glossed over until the very end when everything comes together in this neat, blood-soaked bow. Also, it deals with very adult themes. It’s a coming of age story wrapped in a magical version of reality, and Quentin deals with depression, alcoholism, drug abuse, and sexual relationships. And he doesn’t have a great track record with his decisions. He consistently makes bad decisions in a very realistic, if magical, unforgiving world.
But, it also does a fantastic job of making the protagonist realize that he’s not the hero of this story. I think that might be the weirdest part of this book. We follow Quentin. He is the main character, but he is not the hero. He’s not the one who saves the day, in fact, he’s usually the one that fucks it all up. And when he finally realizes it, it transforms him.
I don’t know what Quentin will be like in the next book. Maybe all this growth will finally make him ready to be the hero. Or maybe he’ll continue to let depression and anxiety destroy him from the inside. I don’t know. But I know that the formula for the first book can’t be followed in the second. So I’m curious to see how Grossman handles the next installment.
I should pick up Magician King sometime in March; my reading is pretty booked until then.
I hope you enjoyed this different take on a review. It’s not as long, which is probably a good thing, and it doesn’t really spoil anything, which is also probably good. I enjoyed The Magicians, and I would recommend it to others. It was nice to see the different interpretations that the Clubbers had of it.
Also, the series has been turned into a television show, premiering January 25th on SyFy. If you don’t want to wait, you can stream the Pilot episode now at SyFy.com. I haven’t watched it yet, but one of the Clubbers did, and she approved.
Now I’m off to get a smidgen of homework done before work. I’m currently reading Castle in the Air by Diana Wynne Jones. I should have it done before Bands of Mourning releases on Tuesday, and so should have a review out before then too.
As always, you can follow my reading by following me @BZelwen on twitter, adding me (HIMluv) on Goodreads, and of course by checking the “What I’m Reading” page.
Thanks for reading!