Sunday, February 10, 2013

The Magicians: A Book Review

This book review contains NO SPOILERS. Enjoy! (:

Book review #7 of 2013!

I'm racking my brain to find away to start off this book review without being "I'm SO EXCITED," but I am. No use trying to hide it. I'm very excited to talk about today's book review on Lev Grossman's The Magicians, because like Catherynne Valente's The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland In a Ship of Her Own Making, I found this novel entirely at random.

Whenever I walk past a bookstore, it is nearly impossible for me to not go in. I went into my local independent bookstore one day and came across this title. Actually, technically, I found The Magician's King (sequel to The Magicians). I was very intrigued, and being the horrible local, cheap citizen that I am, I took a photo of the cover to do an Amazon search to find it at a cheaper price. Once I searched it, I found out that it was the sequel, and decided that since the bookstore didn't have the first installment anyway, I would just go ahead and order it off of Amazon. Though I love reading recommendations from others, there's a magical feeling that surrounds buying books at random that you don't experience when there's so much hype.

But without further ado, let's get into my review for The Magicians.

Title: The Magicians
Author: Lev Grossman
Series: The Magicians Series
Followed by: The Magician King
Genre: YA/adult Fantasy
Pages: 402
Release date: August 11, 2009
Links: AmazonB&N | Goodreads

And as usual, here's the back cover description:

"Quentin Coldwater is brilliant but miserable. A high school math genius, he's secretly fascinated with a series of children's fantasy novels set in a magical land called Fillory, and real life is disappointing by comparison. When Quentin is unexpectedly admitted to an elite, secret college of magic, it looks like his wildest dreams may have come true. But his newfound powers lead him down a rabbit hole of hedonism and disillusionment, and ultimately to the dark secret behind the story of Fillory. The land of his childhood fantasies turns out to be much darker and more dangerous than he ever could have imagined..."

It's funny how I stated in my last review for The Blood of the Lamb that I wanted to be more systematic and consistent in the formatting of my reviews. I say it's funny because as I started to think about how I would assemble this review, I came up with different categories.

(I also wanted to quickly note that I will be drawing some comparisons between this and Harry Potter)

My thoughts as I read the book:

For the first 10 pages, I was very engaged. I remember starting it and thinking that there's no way I wasn't going to love this book. Right about at the start of the third chapter, I wasn't too sure anymore. I think it's difficult to start a novel off in the real world and transcend into a magical realm without the outcome appearing entirely fantastical and immediately dropping the realistic world. I felt like this book was trying to give off a much more "realistic" experience than Harry's immersion into Hogwarts and I wasn't really buying it at first.

I think the book really started to find it's rhythm about 1/3 of the way through the book. The last two-thirds felt so much smoother and that's when I felt that I was most engaged.

The last 1/4 of the book, however, was probably the absolute best section. It was the section where I couldn't put the book down.

My thoughts upon finishing the book:

"Hmm...where's the second book?" My immediate reaction was to wonder what happened after the last line of the book. It's wasn't like my reaction to Insurgent (which was essentially "GIVE ME BOOK NOW!!!!") but I was still interested in what was next to come. Luckily, when I reached that last quarter of the novel, I anticipated this would happen and went back to purchase The Magician King. I probably won't read it immediately, but maybe towards the end of the month?

The Magicians shows you the dark side that Harry Potter never really did. What happens when you finally find your fantasy world, and you are just as unhappy inside it as you were outside?


I can talk about characters for a long time in regards to this book.

Quentin. It's been so long since I've felt for a character in the way I felt for Quentin. Come to think of it, I don't know if I have ever felt this way before. To put it simply, I somewhat hate Quentin. Here is my attempt to explain his character in a list:

1. I hate Quentin because I feel like he is a sorry, self-pitying loser. At the start of the novel, I thought that was okay. Many novels start out with unhappy protagonists in less-than-desirable situations. Harry, for instance. The problem with Quentin was that he never fell out of it. When Harry met Ron, began classes at Hogwarts, played Quidditch, etc., I knew he was genuinely happy and found where he belonged. With Quentin, he definitely had his happy moments, but something about that bastard always gave off the impression that nothing was good enough. It was frustrating for me because I fantasize about the world beyond the rabbit hole, and Quentin was not making me feel like it would  be how I hoped. Which brings me to point number 2....

2. I want to hate Quentin, but I almost can't. The way his character reads, I am fairly convinced the man has clinical depression. His self-pitying bothers me, but I often find myself worried as well. Despite how much he grew on my nerves throughout the novel, I kept hoping he would find something that would make him happy. He gave off the air of someone who gave up on happiness long ago. The book didn't give me enough to history to pinpoint what that was, but even without knowing, I knew I couldn't fully hate him like I wished I could.

3. Not entirely about Quentin, but is everyone in this novel depressed? All the characters in The Magicians seemed to have horrible lives outside of the book, and in some cases, inside the school too. It was an underlying emotion of discontent that made me feel uneasy at times.

As for the remaining cast of characters, I didn't find myself particularly drawn to any of them. None of the professors were incredibly memorable to me as the ones in Harry Potter.
If I had to pick a favorite character, it would probably be Alice. But don't hold me to that.


Pacing is one of the reasons that I think I couldn't adjust to the first 1/3 of the book. It was very, very fast- fast, as in, years (multiple) passed within that first third of the book. Where I felt like the narration should have slowed down to let us, the readers, see Quentin acclimate to this world, it sped up. When the book finally slowed down (at that 1/3 mark), I liked it much more.

Final Verdict:

For a book in which the back-cover description reads much like my childhood favorite Harry Potter, it couldn't be more different. I repeatedly mentioned that I thought all the characters were depressing and that the overall feeling of the book was sad, but I don't believe that is without a cause. I am someone who grew up daydreaming of experiencing my own magical world like Alice and The Magicians make me reaffirm what I learned as I got older- that if you are truly unhappy, you can't expect that that will change merely from relocation. No new magical world will change a depressed person who is thoroughly unhappy with themselves to a changed, optimistic person. That is something you must work on for yourself. It is a lesson worth noting.

Who I recommend this book to:

Those who love fantasy books. The Magicians definitely has a realistic element to it that books like The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland In A Ship of Her Own Making doesn't have, so if you're opposed to highly-intense fantastical novels, you may still enjoy this one.


Before I end this post, I wanted to include a memento. I still have the photo on my camera that I shot from the bookstore when I initially found this book. When I find new books through searching a bookstore at random, I either jot them down the title or take a photo. In this case I took a photo (though I clearly didn't get a good shot of his last name).

I love browsing bookstores for new finds and I have had far more successes than failures using this method. I find that I'm a rather good judge of discovering new books even though all I base it off of is 45% on the title, 35% on the cover, and the remaining 20% on the blurbs written on the front/back/inside covers. [In case you're wondering, I don't read the back-cover synopsis of books when I do these sort of book hunts. I may read the first sentence, but I never, never, never read even half the back-cover description- which is why it's not given a percentage.]

I hope you enjoyed this review, as well as my little tangent on my method of book hunting.

Til next time. (:


  1. A high school math genius that is secretly fascinated with fantasy novels and is disappointed when real life does not compare, sounds insteresting. Does he do this in a very mathematical type of way too? I'm curious about this particular quantification--seems like its skimmed over? Or maybe its just my aok feels that want more quantification...

    I do want to add this to my list. Heck it's on my list now, because of the question you proposed "What happens when you finally find your fantasy world, and you are just as unhappy inside it as you were outside? "

    I'll see how I adjust to this slightly down characters, I might be drawn to them.

    Excellent review :)

    1. Thank you. (:

      The "mathematical genius" of Quentin is merely a background character attribute. It's meant to add onto the many things, that despite how smart Q is, it doesn't fill that empty space inside of him. Other than the word "calculus" once towards the beginning, the book doesn't mention any real math.