The Magicians

Author: Lev Grossman

Type: Fiction, novel

Part of series: The Magicians (#1)

Published: 2009

I read it: July 2010


Oh, The Magicians. I was so right about you. And I really didn’t want to be. I heard about you from friends, thought you a fool’s errand that looks nice in daylight but alone under the covers leaves something to be desired. But everyone smiled when they said your name, you wore your best when I looked your way, and you felt comfortable in my hands. Mostly, you promised to be an amalgamation of past lovers, with all their best parts plus completely new layers I never could have imagined.

Eh, I imagined them and there they were, plain and none too subtle.

I just did not see the point of this book. I don’t think I’ve ever read anything the assessment of which depends entirely on whether or not you’ve read a couple other key series prior. I come from the diehard Narnia/Harry Potter set and was ready to have this book floor me, or at least drag me along into another solid fantasy land. But it didn’t. The first half of the book is an HP parallel, the second half is Narnia. Okay. But somewhere I heard this was supposed to be adult. Nothing really happens in the whole book that could not have happened in HP8 had Rowling continued her saga. The whole time I’m thinking, someone needs to be murdered to make this worth it. Someone might have died a magician’s death in there… but it was no one important, and by the time the real action happened at the end, I didn’t really care.

Alright, I’m being too harsh. Grossman is no hack writer and in the right mindset it’s easy to engage with the book. But there was no dramatic thread, no real push for Quentin and his crew. Just lazy kids who claim, “We have our whole lives ahead of us and all I want to do is take a nap.” You’re a goddamn magician, if you take a nap I’m putting this book down. The post-grad genius ennui was… well, boring, as I guess it should be. When Grossman is ready to give a lesson, you’re beat over the head with it for a few paragraphs. Spelled out just in case you couldn’t read between the lines. Oh, being a magician is not a free ticket to happiness? Gotcha. Knew that from Potter & Co. When do we get to the murdering?

In the end, I just think this book came way too soon. I mean, we’re still in the process of witnessing the HP movies for Clive’s sake. Ten years from now, I think I would have better appreciated this nod to all things fantasy. There are a lot of good references, including Tolkien and a nice parallel to a key scene from The Once and Future King (although I was hoping the back alley sex club from Wicked was a little more of an influence—Grossman almost wanted to go there but couldn’t do it). And is that an Infinite Jest reference in the last few pages? Nice.

Despite my many complaints, I may still end up reading the sequels. I’m just a sucker for a series. But maybe first I’ll apply to be Grossman’s editor. It’s painful when the characters’ movements in the text don’t match the hand-drawn map preceding the novel. And for a pro to misuse “literally” and “random” on the same page? Ah god, get me to Hogwarts quick and let me forget about this confusion of a novel for a while.

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