Wednesday, March 21, 2012

The Magicians by Lev Grossman

book jacketI will first start off saying that “The Magicians” maybe a difficult book for some to get through.   I know that many of the characters are not particularly likeable and the pacing of the book can be kind of slow at times but if you can finish the first book I would suggest reading the second book “The Magician King.”  You have to realize that in the first book the author is setting up and creating the world that his characters inhabit.  I am enjoying the second book more than the first book. Many people have compared the book to JK Rowling’s Harry Potter series, but I think that is a very poor comparison.  While both books have the main characters attend a secret school that teaches magic, the comparison ends there.  One is that these are college age students, who smoke, drink and have sex like normal college students.  Also this world that Lev Grossman has created is less forgiving, than Rowling’s. Here spells can go horrible wrong and there is no recovering from them.

We meet the main character, Quentin Coldwater, in Brooklyn on a bleak fall day as he heads off to a college interview for Princeton University. The interview doesn’t go quite as planned, the interviewer is dead when he shows up and one of the EMTs hands him a folder that contains a previously unknown novel by Chistopher Plover. In the “Magicians” Plover has written a beloved series of children’s books that take place in a mythical land called Fillory.  But as Quentin is leaving a page from the folder gets caught in the wind and blown into an overgrown garden.  As he searches the garden he emerges from the other side in garden that is warmed by a summer sun.  He is lead to a building where he is told that he will be given an entrance exam to a Brakebills a college for magicians. Quentin passes the first exam and then is given a series of test by various professors at the college. In the final test Quentin manages to perform real magic, so he is accepted in to this very exclusive and elite college.

The first part of this book then follows Quentin and his friends at Brakebills.  And this seems very much like a typical college experience where there is drinking, smoking and sex, except they are also learning magic.  They are constantly told how very special they are and many of them become elitist snobs, especially Quentin. But reality sinks in after the friends graduate and they are reintroduced to the real world. While they have the ability to perform magic there is no real use for magic in the real world, especially in Manhattan. The group of friends is all just a bunch of aimless young adults, who drink too much, smoke too much and have sex with each other.  This all changes when another graduate from Brakebills shows up with a button that will allow them to actually visit the magical land of Fiilory.  Of course this trip to Fillory doesn’t go quite how they expect. 

I will be the first to say that many of the characters in this book are quite self absorbed and not really likeable and are your quintessential anti-heroes. But I think that Lev Grossman in much of this book is trying to set up the characters and the world that they inhabit. I do say that I enjoyed the sequel, The Magician King, more.  The Magician king explores differ themes, such as what does it meant to be a hero, and is a conventional education such as Brakebills any better than a hard fought independent one.   I really enjoyed the discussion that we had about this book at the meeting and how a few things about the book were put in to perspective for me.

Request The Magicians from the Bangor Public Library


  1. I do have to agree. The Magicians intrigued me, but, for the most part, was not a stay-up-till-dawn-can't-put-it-down kind of read. But if you got away from the idea that it is Harry Potter, it is a decent read on its own terms. Am looking forward to seeing how the series develops!

  2. Anonymous NYOBG MemberMarch 27, 2012 at 2:23 PM

    True, it's not one of those books that you feel compelled to finish all in one go, but I thought it was definitely a worthwhile read. I'd say the comparisons to Harry Potter are rather lazy ones, for they're not accurate much beyond the "students at a school for magic" point. By the same token, references to Narnia, Lord of the Rings, etc., are fairly superficial, in my opinion. I found it interesting to see what Lev Grossman did with some of those elements and wasn't in any way offended that he should dare tread upon the same ground, as some purist fans of the other series have been.

    I didn't even mind that the characters aren't that likeable (although I did like Alice and cared enough about Penny to feel sorry for him). While I could have done with a little less elaboration on their various personal flaws, especially in the second part of the book, I welcomed the fact that they actually had them. Books in this genre often elevate their heroes to near-saintly status, and in this case, not only did we not have near-saints, we didn't even have heroes, by most standards. And yet I kept wanting to know what happened.

    Having finished the book, I still want to know more about the characters and their world(s), so I'm glad to know that the next book is even better. Sarah, do we have you to thank for its appearance on our Nooks?

  3. I think you can thank Meg for the appearance of the "Magician King" on the red Nooks. I really enjoyed both books, but as Meg said they are not a stay until dawn kinda read. With the second book you hear more of Julia's story of how she became a magician. ~Sarah

  4. Magician King - SO MUCH BETTER! I now understand why he had to write the first one, although I almost wish he had condensed it and added it into the beginning of the second book, just so no one would miss it. It is a Very compelling read, with a much more satisfying (yet not typical) ending. What did ya'll think?

  5. Meg- I also agree that the first book could have somehow been shrunk and added to the beginning of the second book. I really enjoyed the story of how Julia became a magician. ~Sarah