Wednesday, August 10, 2011

REVIEW: The Magicians by Lev Grossman

Uber smart high school senior Quentin Coldwater is unhappy with his life, even though he is almost guaranteed to be accepted to an ivy league college in the fall.  His only escape from the monotony of living with his totally disconnected parents are the novels of Fillory-a childhood fantasy series he is obsessed with.  Quentin is offered a chance to test for a place at Brakebills, a prestigious college of magic in upstate New York. He is accepted and is thrown in with a group of kids just as brilliant as he is and struggles to learn the ins and outs of sorcery.  He bonds with a group of social outcasts and as their time at Brakebills comes to a close they make an astounding discovery-there are portals to other worlds and one of them leads to Fillory!  Fillory, however, is not what Quentin thought it would be.

I've heard this book described as Harry Potter for adults and I think the adult part comes from the sex, alcohol, and drugs that are so prevalent in this novel.  This is not Harry Potter by any means though.  I guess the way I would describe it is if you took elements of Harry Potter, Chronicles and Narnia, and one of those angsty-teenage rich kids-we have everything but our lives suck- type TV shows and then wrote a book with them. 

THE GOOD: Although non of these group of kids-Quentin, Alice, Janet, Eliot, Penny-is particularly likable they were all interesting and different enough to keep my attention.  I liked the parts of the book focusing on this group of characters trying to learn sorcery and also the parts that gave the reader snippets of the Fillory books so we could get a sense what they were about.

THE BAD:  As stated above, none of these characters were likable.  I like someone to root for in my books and I couldn't get behind any of these guys. Any time you find yourself wanting to scream "Stop being such a douche!" at the main character it can't be a good thing. I also didn't quite like that it seemed that everything that went wrong in the novel was an excuse to have sex and drink vast amounts of alcohol. Oh-learning magic is so hard!  Lets down 10 bottles of wine!  That will make us feel better!  Oh-we're having a disagreement among the group!  I know!  Let's have an orgy and then everything will be hunky dory again!  Seriously?

It's been a few days since I finished this book and I still can't decide whether Grossman was trying to pay homage to Harry and Narnia or whether he was just blatantly ripping them off.  Here are some of the similarities:
  • The magic school that is protected by spells so no one can discern its location (um Hogwarts?)
  • The magical land of talking animals with vacant thrones to be ruled by humans (Narnia?)
  • A magic game that is played against students of other schools (Quidditch?)
  • The once good boy turned evil villain (Voldemort?)
Also two things quickly became apparent about Quentin Coldwater:  1) he is the kind of guy who is never going to happy with his lot in life no matter what happens and 2) for such a brilliant guy he sure knows how to make a mess of things.

THE FINAL VERDICT: I probably would have completely given up on this book except the parts I did like were entertaining enough to make me want to keep reading.  There were a lot of problems here that kept me from enjoying it as much as I hoped but I am going to give the sequel The Magician King a shot only because the story returns to the magical land of Fillory which has the potential to be a good story if it goes its own way and distinguishes itself from Narnia. Also I am hoping that Quentin redeems himself in the second installment. Recommend this for someone who likes their fantasy novels a bit darker and doesn't mind all the similarities to better known (and better written) fantasy books.  If you're looking for something that captures the magic of Harry Potter-I'd give this a pass. You won't find that here.

 I borrowed this book from the library.

1 comment:

  1. I have been thinking about reading this one, I love books with magic in them. After reading your review I might still read it, but am not in a hurry. Thanks for your honest review.