I first heard of The Magicians by Lev Grossman on the “Books on the Nightstand” podcast. And I know what you’re thinking, because I thought the same thing. A book about a young man who goes off to a mysterious school to study magic . . . where have I heard that before? It sounds so familiar. Oh, right! This must be a rip off of Harry Potter!
I have to admit, this book didn’t really grab me. The premise was interesting enough – a teenage boy stumbles upon Breakbills College, a school for magic. He sits an entrance exam and is admitted, leaving behind his plans to go to Princeton. Our main character, Quentin, is a bit depressing. He’s one of those teenagers who believe that their lives are bleak even when they’re actually pretty good. I have to say, he really annoyed me at times, even though I knew lots of kids like this when I was in high school.
Although Quentin is in college, he is still really into a series of children’s books set in the magical world of Fillory. Fillory is basically Narnia, right down to the talking animals and the four British siblings who become kings and queens. Quentin discovers that not only is Fillory real, it is in danger and needs Quentin to save the day.
Which brings me to my main complaint of the whole series: all the negativity. Quentin learns that he can do magic. He’s not happy. He joins an elite group of students, one of whom becomes his girlfriend (who he later cheats on). He’s still not happy. Quentin learns that his favorite books and favorite fictional place are 100% real – AND HE GETS TO GO THERE WITH ALL HIS FRIENDS. Still miserable. There was very little joy in the book at all. When I read about magic, I want to see wonder. I want to see excitement. I want to see more than just general apathy. Quentin wonders at several points in the story why he isn’t happy, and it’s a very good question. WHY AREN’T YOU EXCITED ABOUT ALL THESE AMAZING THINGS HAPPENING TO YOU?
There were several interesting things in the book. Brakebills was a very interesting story world, although I wish we could have seen more of the classes. I would’ve also liked to see what other magicians do once out of school, since I don’t believe that every single one of them are as disillusioned as Quentin is. I would’ve rather had the story from Quentin’s girlfriend Alice’s point of view, since she’s a much more likeable character.
I might try re-reading this at some point, just to see if I missed anything, but for the most part, it was kind of blah for me.