Lev Grossman’s The Magicians is another book I read because the premise of one of its sequels sounded intriguing. Upon reading the book that launched the series, however, I don’t think I’ll be sticking with it to make it to book three. There are so many aspects of The Magicians that I find appealing and yet, the book as a whole felt like a chore to get through. The themes are ones that I adore but their execution failed to keep my attention. There isn’t really anything wrong with The Magicians but I can’t say that I enjoyed it.
Quentin is a jaded teen with dreams of being more and doing more than what even the promise of an Ivy League education can offer. Then a mysterious encounter with a paramedic opens his eyes to the real magic in the world and gives him a chance for a life as a magician. The entrance exams to the Brakebills School are brutal but Quentin wins a place in the incoming class. Convinced that magic is the answer to the question of what will make him happiest, Quentin throws himself into his new education and life with an odd group of friends at the school.
As I said before, there were so many aspects of the book and the story that are exactly what I would want from such a book, so it truly baffles me why I enjoyed it so little (although that reaction is actually very on point with the biggest theme of the text as Quentin eventually discovers “the horror of really getting what he thought he wanted”). There are plenty of allusions to the more childish and child oriented series like Harry Potter and The Chronicles of Narnia (everything to do with Fillory screamed Narnia at such a high volume, it was impossible for me to take any of it too seriously). But there is no denying that this story is not for children.
What made this book so difficult for me to get through was the main character. Quentin is one of those people that refuses to take responsibility for anything and everything, blaming his unhappiness on external forces and drifting through life waiting for things to happen instead of taking action. It’s an attitude that I have very little patience for (because I have too much experience with it in real life) and so I have no sympathy or affection for the character. Unfortunately, many of Quentin’s friends are of a similar mindset. Alice is the only character that I found myself caring about but she wasn’t enough for a book that was so long.
The novel has a solid if somewhat predictable plot and is well written. There is just too much build up for what the payoff is, as far as I’m concerned. The book, like its aggravating protagonist, wanders along slowly, waiting for something else to give it meaning; like Quentin, I can’t help but feel it thinks too highly of itself, believing it’s cleverer than it actually is. For the amount of time spent at Brakebills, I still don’t feel like I have any kind of connection to or affection for the place or the characters that call it home, and that’s how most of the book is for me. I rented it from the library and couldn’t make myself get through the whole book in the two weeks before it had to go back; it had holds on it, so I couldn’t just renew it. I had to wait and finish it later and when I did get it back, the two weeks then almost weren’t enough. It’s not dense, but it was difficult because I just stopped caring. I won’t be bothering to see what happens next because I doubt Quentin has truly learned his lesson and I can’t stomach another book like the first.