Review: The Magicians by Lev Grossman

magiciansIn 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 …

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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.


13 thoughts on “Review: The Magicians by Lev Grossman

  1. Although I loved the book, these are all fair criticisms. The only one I don’t really agree with is the characters – I don’t think we’re really supposed to like him, and my sister who’s read the whole series says this becomes more apparent. I understand for a lot of people they can’t read a series about characters they don’t like – fair enough, I’m the same in many cases – but I found the plot compelling enough to overlook it in this case. But these are just my thoughts, and I am not undermining your review at all!! Fab blog xx

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank-you so much for your comment!

      I think that I definitely fall into the category of readers that need to like the characters that they are reading about. I think that if the intention was to make Quentin unlikeable than it was achieved. Perhaps, if I ever feel like reading the book again, I need to read it from that perspective.

      Thanks for commenting your thoughts, I love hearing differing reviews from other booklovers ❤

      Liked by 1 person

    1. Haha, it is a little sad, isn’t it? It is always disappointing when you discover a book that you are so excited for and then it turns out to not be what you are expecting. Oh well, it was nice to read something different at the very least 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Excellent review! Of course you already know I disagree, lol. You bring up some great points – I agree with you that the pacing in this book should have been better, definitely would have been better over a year like you said. I’m the type of reader who likes “unlikable” characters, so our different views make sense. Quentin is just as infuriating in the 2nd book (which was actually my favorite, lol), but by the 3rd he finally grows to be a decent person. I like their complexities and seeing why they are so unlikeable. I had the same feeling as you about definitely not wanting to escape into any of the worlds in the book, but by the end I totally got why Grossman did that, and especially by the end of the series it ties in beautifully to the theme that your fantasies are not all they’re cracked up to be. Anyway, this was a really excellent review and I enjoyed reading a different perspective on it!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks so much Emily! It has been awesome discussing this book with you, because I’ve been able to view it from so many different angles! Plus, I think it helped me write this review 🙂

      It’s nice to know that Quentin develops into a pretty decent character by the end of the series. I did like him initially, his sense of wonderment and amazement made me him so relatable (because we all know we would act like that!) but the path that he went down in the first book just made him unlikeable to me. And I’m not a huge fan of reading books with unlikeable protagonists, but I definitely see the appeal.

      Thanks so much again! ❤

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Thank you for this book review. It was extremely well written and thoughtful. It of course doesn’t hurt that I agree with your viewpoint of this book. I am also glad to see the great comments on this one from people who read the whole series. I couldn’t finish the second book. Series just so wasn’t my thing.
    x The Captain

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you for such a lovely comment! It really means a lot. There seems to be a mixed opinion about this series — people seem to either really like it, or it just wasn’t for them ❤


  4. “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.”

    He sounds awful. I’m with you; it’s really hard for me to read about a protagonist I dislike as a person. It usually just leaves me a puddle of exasperated rage.

    The magic system does sound awesome! If you liked unique magic systems like that, perhaps you might consider giving Daughter of Smoke and Bone by Laini Taylor a try, if you haven’t read it already.

    Great review, as expected. 😀


    1. Yes! Unlikeable protagonists are the absolute worst in my opinion, though, I do see the appeal to them. But they are just not my cup of tea.

      I’ve heard about Laini Taylor, her new, coming soon book looks absolutely awesome. But I haven’t read anything from her. I’ll definitely be looking to see what Daughter of Smoke and Bone is like. Thanks! 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank-you! I was really hoping that Quentin would grow and develop as a character, but it seemed as though he only got worse. I’m glad that I’m not the only one that won’t be finishing this series — that actually seems to be the general consensus! 🙂


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