Title: The Magicians
Author: Lev Grossman
2017 Book Challenge Entry: The first book of a series you have never read
Thoughts: A while back, I called out to my people on the social media to find something new to read. Yes. I have like 123 and some books on my “Want to Read” list on Goodreads. Yes. I have a dozen or so books at home I have purchased or been gifted that I need to read. Yes. I occasionally go to the library and just check out something random that is not on any list I have. However, you just need more. There is no such thing as too many books, and I like to hear what other people like. It helps me break out of my little bubble.
This one was recommended by my brother Daniel. He is one of the smartest people I know, so when he suggests anything to read, I immediately think two things. 1) This book is probably going to be excellent. 2) I might not understand anything in this book. Fearing the latter, I shied away from it for a while. Finally, I decided to just dive in. I needed something interesting and challenging. Away we go.
This book is billed as the college version of Harry Potter. It centers around Quentin Coldwater. He is crazy smart and in the midst of figuring out his college and life plan when he is unexpectedly admitted to Brakebills University, a secret institution that specializes in the teaching of magic. Early on, we find out he is very attached to a children’s book series called Fillory and Further which centers on the Chatwin children of England and their adventures to a magical land called Fillory. It’s a fictionalized version of the Narnia books by C.S. Lewis.
There are several things about this book that I genuinely loved. The telling of how Quentin finds Brakebills, or rather, how it finds him, is pretty gripping. The scenes of the tests he takes in order to be admitted bring up memories of the college admittance process that actually gave me a stomach ache they were so stressful. The way Grossman paints a scene and pulls his readers into this crazy world is quite spectacular.
I think the comparison to Harry Potter is unfair. By setting it up as a more mature version of a beloved series, readers can’t help but compare the two. I totally fell into this trap. The pacing was a bit strange for me at first. I felt it moved way to quickly through Quentin’s time at Brakebills. I wanted more information and more detail about each year. Once I realized the only reason I was processing it that way, I tried to separate the two in my mind. Honestly, as soon as I stopped comparing it to other books about magic, it became more like Catcher in the Rye meets The Chronicles of Narnia and I was able to enjoy it much more.
I also had some issues with Quentin as a main character. I felt he was whiny and a bit spoiled. He didn’t like his parents because they were distant, but he didn’t do anything to try and have a better relationship with them. He becomes obsessed with the clique he falls in with, and the relationships there become the focus of the book which would be fine, but there aren’t very many likable characters in that group. And I mean, hey. I’m all for a flawed character. I love when my protagonists come with baggage and emotional bruising. The problem for me lies in a character that has emotional bruising and doesn’t seem to care or try to be better.
After they leave Brakebills, they become worse. There is a whole entitled rich kid mentality that I have no patience for. I would have written this book off, but the last quarter. You guys. This book is saved in the last quarter. The whole book is leading up to something big. They can’t just hang out in New York and party all day, ya know. They actually make it across dimensions to another plane and things take a hard. left. turn. It gets really cool really fast and once this happens, I couldn’t put it down.
I went from kind of not liking this book, to trying to figure out how fast I could get my hands on the next in the series. I do wish the character was a bit less self centered, but I suppose that is most young adults? I also will maintain that this is less Harry Potter and more Catcher in the Rye. The sense of trying to find yourself and attempting to make your way in the world is real, but I just don’t find his path realistic even without the supernatural elements. I would absolutely recommend it, but just know that there is a bit of investment before the fantastic payoff.