A Book Review of The Magicians by Lev Grossman

Book Review of The Magicians by Lev Grossman

I read this book a while ago actually.  I was told that it was a novel that every fantasy reader HAD to read… in fact, I think there is a critic, whose words are prominently featured on the back cover of this novel, who proclaims that it should be required reading for anyone who has ever wished they were themselves in a fantasy novel.  I have waited a while to review this novel mostly because I wasn’t quite sure how I felt about it when I finished it.  I was glad I had read it, but I wasn’t sure if I had actually liked it.  To be honest, I still am not totally sure if I like this book or not.  But for some reasons, I couldn’t put it down.

The Good

The beginning – it is relatable in a way that does’t feel too stale or overdone. We are introduced to Quentin who doesn’t have a lot going on, other than wishing that he was someone else. It might sound overdone, but it doesn’t feel that way as you’re reading. Quentin is a big fantasy reader in love with these books about a magical land named Filroy. Filroy is basically what we think of as Narnia… the parallels are pretty obvious, and I found myself wondering why Grossman didn’t just say Narnia, as he definitely calls out Harry Potter.  But I digress. Quentin is likeable and relateable at the start of the novel.

The humor – Grossman actually infuses a lot of humor into this novel. Sometimes it is dark and unexpected, and other times it’s very pop-culture-y – something that I feel is pretty rare in fantasy novels. The humor is much needed as the rest of the book is actually surprisingly dark.

The reality – this book could also be described as a vision of what would really happen if people could use magic… hence why it can get pretty bleak at times.  Harry Potter is pretty PG when it comes down to it.  Narnia, even more so.  This novel, not so much.  Quentin and his other teenage friends actually act like teenagers.  Magic doesn’t suddenly change their human nature – they are still young and stupid and still have crazy hormones. There is underage drinking, drug usage, sex…. and then magic on top of that.

The novel is also extremely engaging.  I really wanted to know what was going to happen.  Even if I was ultimately disappointed in the end, it only took me two days to read this novel.  This is partly due to Grossman’s easy prose and engaging plot.  That is a huge… and I feel like it is not something that every writer can accomplish.

The Bad

The character development of Quentin – Quentin starts the story as a very relatable and likeable character.  As he gets deeper into this world of magic, and thereby more powerful, I really started to dislike him.  His charm slowly disappears.  I don’t know where it happens.  I can’t pinpoint an exact spot,  However, I do know where I realized that he was an asshole…. I think you’ll know when you get to that point.  This may be intentional on Grossman’s part – maybe he’s trying to make a point that magic would corrupt, but I am not sure what/if Grossman is trying to do anything than other entertain.

The Uncertainty. As stated above, I have no idea if Grossman is just writing a fluff fantasy novel or if he is actually trying to make a point. I think this is the biggest reason why I still don’t know how I feel about the story. The story is also all over the place as far as tone goes. I think my emotions had a hard time keeping up.

The Ending.  Sad endings or happy endings, I can take them all. But this ending felt wrong to me and a little too unjust.  It’s obviously geared towards a sequel, but I felt a sequel wasn’t really appropriate given how everything was left.  I still read it – that will be the next review…. but I still don’t think it was needed.

The Verdict

This novel is light and then absolutely bleak at the same time. It’s kind of all over the place. Deep and philosophical one moment and shallow and superficial the next. Required reading?  No.

If you like fantasy, you probably will want to read this. If not, best to find another book.

Written by Rachel B.

Rachel is a co-creator and writer at Definitely Not for the Birds (DNFB). She recently graduated with a degree in English. Presently, she writes, reads, and then reads and writes some more, with a giant and ever-present mug of green tea in her hand. Follow Rachel @rrbindl and DNFB @not4birds