Review: The Magicians by Lev Grossman

Review: The Magicians by Lev GrossmanThe Magicians by Lev Grossman
Amazon|The Book Depository
Pages: 402
Series: The Magicians #1
Published by Viking on August 11th 2009
Genres: Fantasy

Like everyone else, precocious high school senior Quentin Coldwater assumes that magic isn't real, until he finds himself admitted to a very secretive and exclusive college of magic in upstate New York. There he indulges in joys of college-friendship, love, sex, and booze- and receives a rigorous education in modern sorcery. But magic doesn't bring the happiness and adventure Quentin thought it would. After graduation, he and his friends stumble upon a secret that sets them on a remarkable journey that may just fulfill Quentin's yearning. But their journey turns out to be darker and more dangerous than they'd imagined.


I have been trying to write this review since I finished the book in early April. The Magicians is peddled as an “adult Harry Potter” and in some respects it is but in a lot of ways this title is false. Ultimately the world built by J.K. Rowling is far superior (in detail, understanding, and general incorporation into the plot of the Potter series) to Grossman’s Magicians. I’m feeling unusually generous by giving this first installment three stars.

I had a lot of problems with the way information was presented in this novel. I never understood the nuts and bolts of how things operated at Brakebills and in Fillory. Grossman seemed not to be bothered by intricate details (I mean a student died in the 3rd year and he just bypasses it with a paragraph! Nothing about how the students and staff dealt with that or an investigation into what happened was ever mentioned) of specific events. He glosses over so much that I felt like I had skimmed large sections offering (any kind of) explanation when really he was the one who skimmed over the facts.

While I tried not to compare The Magicians to the Harry Potter series, because it became apparently clear that the two were not even remotely related, I ended up doing just that in my post-reading haze. Rowling developed an intricate world with rules and regulations, governing organizations and a societal structure that could easily be translated throughout the series. In comparison, Grossman almost leaves us perched on a cliff, expecting readers to catapult themselves to the other side without help or understanding.

Overall, I found this first installment okay. It was interesting, but I ended up feeling like I was missing large chunks of information. I also found Quentin and his cohorts extremely annoying most of the time. The Quentin/Alice relationship felt like such a cop out for both of these characters. Their relationship was never translatable to me (they get turned into arctic foxes, have sex, and then they are in love? What??). Never once did it seem like they developed a legitimate relationship in the 400 page book. I felt like all of the characters were a third of the way finished. They all had potential to be a little, more than they appeared. I guess my biggest problem with this book was the limited feel of characters, places, and overall plot arc for the trilogy.

Three stars for a hopefully better second installment.

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