In a secret world of forbidden knowledge, power comes at a terrible price …
Quentin Coldwater’s life is changed forever by an apparently chance encounter: when he turns up for his entrance interview to Princeton he finds his interviewer dead – but a strange envelope bearing Quentin’s name leads him down a very different path to any he’d ever imagined.
The envelope, and the mysterious manuscript it contains, leads to a secret world of obsession and privilege, a world of freedom and power and, for a while, it’s a world that seems to answer all Quentin’s desires. But the idyll cannot last – and when it’s finally shattered, Quentin is drawn into something darker and far more dangerous than anything he could ever have expected …
Before really delving into the depths of this review, I would like to point out that I really wanted to like this book. But, unfortunately, The Magicians by Lev Grossman just didn’t live up to my expectations. I can honestly say that I will not be continuing onwards with this series.
In the beginning, I found myself identifying with Quentin Coldwater. Initially, I really felt like Quentin was the male version of myself… or I was some female version of Quentin… whatever. Quentin often retreats to the magical world of his favourite book series (similar to how I often retreat to the world of Harry Potter and Percy Jackson), often wishing that his life would suddenly get spontaneously better with the revelation that magic is real. He often feels like the odd one out — the third friend that has to walk behind his two best friends because the path isn’t wide enough — sometimes ignored and forgotten, awkward and introverted, self-conscious and insecure. He is proud of his intellectual superiority, but feels like his life is meant to have some higher purpose. This was exactly like me when I was in high school, so it was easy to identify with Quentin’s struggles.
However, Quentin unfortunately grows into an extraordinarily annoying and very unlikable character. Despite starting out as a very interesting character, Quentin doesn’t seem to grow as a person. He actually becomes somewhat intolerable and unlikeable, somebody that I would not want to be associated with. He begins to drink heavily and do drugs, and when something goes wrong in his life he is often quick to blame somebody else. This makes him a horrible friend and boyfriend. In fact, in his pursuit to find whatever happiness he is after at the time, he will attempt to find it at the expense of others. And this comes especially true with his relationship with Alice (something that I cannot go into further detail with because of spoilers).
I will admit, the secondary characters are actually really well developed and actually feel like real people… however, they are not the kind of people that I would generally like in real life. I actually quite like the fact that the group of secondary characters — Alice, Eliot, Janet, Penny, Julia and Josh — actually have a lot of room to develop and grow, despite Quentin’s self-centered narrative. They are very well-developed, well-written and generally much more likeable compared to Quentin. We come to learn a lot about their individual personalities through Quentin’s observations, and it was actually quite disheartening to learn that a lot of these characters possessed such dark and depresses backstories and mentalities. A number of them try fill the void with drinking, sex and drugs. They often feel lonely and unwanted. Yet, saying all of this, these are still not the kind of people that I would generally hang-out with. Not only do I not drink that excessively, but these people would probably get on my nerves every single day if I spent such long periods of time with them.
The best characters, however, are definitely Alice and Eliot. Alice is a very interesting character, her backstory unbelievable heartbreaking. Yet, I think the most wonderful character is by far Eliot. This is a character that we actually get to witness such amazing growth from. Despite beginning as a depressed, lonely alcoholic, Eliot grows much happier, becomes more involved and light humoured.
The magic system was unlike anything that I have ever seen before. Sometimes, after reading so many books with magic, their magic systems sometimes become repeated. However, the magic system within The Magicians is something quite different. And this should be celebrated. Not only does magic come from sadness and pain, but learning to practice magic is a lot more difficult than, lets say, in Harry Potter. In Grossman’s The Magicians, there are so many variables to consider before even performing the most basic of spells: the weather, what month it is, the size of the moon, etc. This was considerably different than a lot of other books that I have read.
I really did not like the pacing. It was too fast. This was actually something that I came to really despise the more that I read The Magicians. The entire book, 488 pages, actually takes place over a six year period. This did not allow for a nice, steady flow of character development. The characters actually developed quite slowly throughout the book (some not even developing at all), so it made it seem that these characters never developed within six years or during one of the most crucial times of their lives. There was even one chapter that was thirty pages and followed the characters through six months of their schooling… I didn’t like that.
In my honest opinion, I do believe that the author could have almost had the same storyline if he had focused on one year of the character’s lives. That way he could have developed things better and could have set a nice pace for the story. Instead, a lot of The Magicians felt rushed.
However, the writing style is quite nice and easy to read. There is definitely one thing that I cannot fault Lev Grossman on: his nice, easy to read writing style. I actually quite enjoyed the way that Grossman writes. Grossman writes very simple prose and obviously has a wonderful vocabulary, making his entire novel wonderfully written.
In the end, I would not like to live in this world. When finishing a novel that I like I am always left with a desire to live in that world and participate in the exciting adventures that the main characters are involved in — very similar to Quentin at the beginning of The Magicians. But, unfortunately, The Magicians did not leave me with that same feeling, which is quite disappointing. Learning how to perform magic actually seemed more like homework than actual fun, and the people were not very likeable. This was not the kind of fantasy world for me.