Author: Lev Grossman
Series: The Magicians, #1
Length: 17 hours
Narrator: Mark Bramhall
Publisher: Books on Tape
Original Publication Date: 2009
Genre(s): New adult, Fantasy
Quentin Coldwater is bored of life. Though the smartest in his school, probably able to get into the best colleges in the country, Quentin dreams of more than that. He’s secretly obsessed with Fillory, a magical land in his favorite children’s book series. So when he’s suddenly accepted into Brakebills, an esteemed university where he will learn to be a magician, Quentin finally thinks he’s found both happiness and his reason for being alive. And after graduation, he even discovers that Fillory is real, and he can go there! But Q eventually learns what we all do, magician or not: achieving even your greatest desire doesn’t always make you happy.
Heralded as a cross between Harry Potter and The Chronicles of Narnia, The Magicians follows Quentin and his fellow magicians on the greatest quest of their time. After, that is, they survive their classes at Brakebills. The novel is told in third-person POV and is broken up into four books. The pacing throughout the novel is very weird. Book one, which takes up pretty much half of the novel, is Quentin’s entire time spent at Brakebills. I think this is the more interesting book for most people, but I eventually found myself kind of thinking, hmm, this is dragging. I didn’t hate it, but it did stretch on and on. Book two is much shorter but slows down even further, with books three and four also very short but very fast and packed with action. At one point, the novel turns very dark, so suddenly that I was kind of speechless for a minute. I had to do a double-take. So, just very weird pacing.
Though I felt parts of the story dragged, it was probably intended for character development purposes. I think the characters were flushed out very well—each one had a distinct voice, personality, and backstory. Probably could have done with a liiiiiitle more diversity, though. And I felt some things didn’t age well. Like, I wasn’t exactly a fan of listening to Q call his friend Josh “fat” in a myriad of ways, nor did I like the use of the r-word at one point to describe something when Grossman should have used a better term, like “stupid,” because that’s what he meant. And I know Quentin is the character, and his worldviews or vocabulary isn’t necessarily Grossman’s, but I don’t think we should perpetuate that bullshit regardless.
Speaking of Quentin and his personality: he is, quite plainly, a dick. Sorry. At first I really liked him and related to him: he’s smart, he has a couple good friends, but he prefers a childhood fantasy over it all. I mean, hey, that was me in high school, too. Kind of still is, though not to the “I’m so depressed and the real world sucks” extent anymore. But as the story moves along, and Quentin gets older, he actually becomes quite insufferable. He’s rude to people, he hates himself, he does bad things and expects to get away with them consequence-free. He hurts someone, then gets furious and jealous when that person hurts him back. I know he’s still just a kid for most of the book, but wowee is he not a nice one. Even at the end of the novel, when he’s much older, he’s still just sad and mean. And I get it: he has depression, obviously, and depression can also come out as anger, not just sadness. I’m interested to see his character arc over the next two novels.
I could say a lot more about some of the other characters (mainly Alice because she is a BADASS and Eliot because he’s bae), but I think I’ll wait to see how they grow and mature in the next book. As for the plot itself, it’s a lot more than just Harry Potter / Narnia. I never like it when books say “it’s like a mix between this and this!” or “if you like this, you’ll love this book!” That sets up expectations that are usually incorrect. The Magicians is a story of its own, and it’s a damn good one. It does get a bit gory towards the end, and there’s a lot of cussing and crude language, so beware. This is not a YA series. Despite any issues I had with the novel, I enjoyed it and am excited to continue the series, see where it goes. And I’ll finally be able to start the TV series!
-“The problem with growing up is that once you’re grown up, the people who aren’t grown up aren’t fun anymore.”