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Review: The Magicians, Lev Grossman

Other than the fact that he is brilliant and never grew out of a series of children’s fantasy novels, Quentin Coldwater is a fairly ordinary teenager in his last year of high school.  When his interview to Princeton goes horribly wrong, Quentin finds himself in what seems like another world, where magic is real and he’s going to learn to be a magician.  At his new magical college, Quentin meets extraordinary friends and learns that some of his favorite myths are more of a reality than he had ever dreamed.

I’m torn in writing this review.  I think the concept behind this book is very clever.  It’s billed as an adult Harry Potter, but it also draws on lots of children’s fantasy, most of which I recognized.  The biggest sources are Harry Potter and the Chronicles of Narnia, and as I was reading, I could easily appreciate the slight mockery and satire that Lev Grossman uses to show how improbable such stories would be in “real life” and how adults would react to them.  I loved these books as a child, so I did pick up on his cleverness.  As I started it, I genuinely was enjoying it, especially during the early school years.  I love boarding school stories, so I was immediately absorbed, but that regrettably didn’t last.

This is because I had a real problem with the main character, Quentin, and the behavior of some characters in general.  I’m sure some people my age do behave the way these characters did, drinking and doing drugs on a daily basis and essentially throwing away their potential, but I’m not friends with them, and haven’t been, for a reason.  Even in college, my friends and I largely avoided the drinking culture, so I had a serious problem relating to any of these characters except Alice, easily my favorite.  The way Quentin then treats her appalled me and set me even further against the book.  These characters do not live in my real world, and thus the book’s concept essentially failed for me.  Not only is their behavior unfamiliar, Quentin is distinctly not a hero and is constantly determined to be unhappy with everything he has.  He screws up over and over again, and neither his dissolute lifestyle nor his incredible achievements satisfy him.  It frustrated him and it frustrated me, which is not something I want to feel while I’m reading.  Maybe this was the point, but if so, no thanks.

I read this for an online book club and most of the members felt similarly about it.  It’s a shame because I really wanted to love it.  I adore Harry Potter and putting that on there was an instant attraction.  I feel that it would have been better marketed as a satire on children’s fantasy.  I can’t really recommend The Magicians. It’s interesting, but not enjoyable.

I am an Amazon Associate. I purchased this book.

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