Book Review: The Magicians by Lev Grossman

15 February 2011

Hoo boy. I read this book back in 2010, can you believe that? And can you believe that that was nearly two months ago? Anyway, I held off reviewing because this book was the subject of my very first ever bookclub meeting. But we've met, had coffee, lunch and chats, and now the book is free to be reviewed. That, and I have to take it back to the library by Friday because I'm out of renewals on this one.

But I ramble. The Magicians is a sneaky little book in that it is not so little and actually more like two books in one. Really. It's even divided into Book I and Book II, which, to this bookworm at least, read like two volumes in a series, not two parts in one book.

That's a minor drawback, though. Book I introduces both Quentin (our handy protagonist) and the reader (that's you and me) to the world of magic and life at Brakebills, a school for young witches and wizards... Sound familiar? It is, a bit, but not to the point of distraction. Harry Potter has cornered the market on wizarding schools, to be fair, and Grossman does an excellent job of making his different from Hogwarts. First, it's more like college than high school. Second, parents do not know where their children go. Third, magic is dependent on high intelligence, not innate skill.

Book II takes both Quentin and his friends and his lovely readers away from Brakebills and into an adventure in Fillory, which quite familiarly is the subject of Quentin's favorite books, in which a group of children all find their way into a magical land through the back of a wardrobe. It's not quite that blatant, but Book II is almost annoyingly similar to some well-known adventures in Narnia.

Almost. Again, Grossman avoids the trap of the too-familiar with just enough touches of his own making and a decent helping of teenage angst and sexual tension. This is definitely more grown-up than Narnia, more serious than Harry Potter, and more accessible for non-pre-teen readers.

Bottom line: All in all, The Magicians is a fun book for those looking to graduate from Harry Potter without stepping foot out of the fantasy worlds we all know and love. While not entirely original, Grossman's forceful prose moves the story (or stories, if you will) along at a steady clip, pulling readers into a magical world at once familiar and completely unexpected for what promises to be a wonderful series. The sequel is planned for a Fall 2011 release. Get reading and you'll have plenty of time to catch up.

9 comments :

  1. I will be first in line to get that second book! :) Nice review.

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  2. I'm excited about it! So many other series to catch up on in the meantime...

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  3. I'm happy to read a favorable review of The Magicians! I bought this about 6 months back and before I picked it up I read a lot of reviews that said it was terrible - not worth reading. Maybe I'll pick this one up now that I know it's not a dud!

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  4. Brenna - Really? I'm surprised! It certainly wasn't the greatest book I've read all year, but it was definitely enjoyable, especially if you like fantasy settings.

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  5. I too have read only negative reviews of it! I had picked it up several times because it sounds intriguing but when I sampled the writing I didn't like it much. That coupled with the negative reviews has kept me from buying it.

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  6. I didn't realize the sequel was out so soon! I wasn't in love with The Magicians but I am definitely curious to see what's going to happen to all the characters.

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  7. You're right that this is an enjoyable book, but kind of in the way you enjoy a really trashy paperback. Except that this one isn't trashy, it's just not very good.

    I also have to politely (but emphatically) disagree that Brakebills differs from Hogwarts so significantly. Half of The Magicians attempts to satire Harry Potter... the other half pays homage to Narnia. Grossman so often explicitly mentions Hogwarts and though the practicalities are different and yes, Brakebills is college, the two are very similar down to their foundations.

    I'm surprised (and a little annoyed) to hear that there's going to be a sequel. Another of those books that doesn't actually need a sequel, wasn't good enough to justify it and a case where the sequel can actually ruin the ending of the original book. I don't get it...

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  8. Steph - Usually I link to other reviews, but didn't have a chance to do so on this one. If I'd done my homework, I'd have seen all this negative feedback!

    Jenny - Yep! I'm glad to have 10 months between my finishing the first and the release of the second, though. I'm not rushing to read it, though I'll certainly pick it up at some point.

    Bibliobio - You're right, enjoyable, but not wonderful. I didn't find the similarities to HP and Narnia too offputting, though, as many as there were. Like Jenny, I'm interested to see where the characters go in the sequel, though I didn't realize there was a sequel in finishing the first - it seemed wrapped up and complete as one book (though I still think the one book was really more like two crammed between two covers).

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  9. Will have to look into this one, thanks! for sharing.

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