Review - The Magicians (The Magicians #1) by Lev Grossman

The Magicians (The Magicians #1)
by Lev Grossman

Summary: 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. Psychologically piercing and dazzlingly inventive, The Magicians, the prequel to the New York Times bestselling book The Magician King and the #1 bestseller The Magician's Land, is an enthralling coming-of-age tale about magic practiced in the real world-where good and evil aren't black and white, and power comes at a terrible price.

Source: I purchased a paperback from a used bookstore

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I have mixed feelings about this book. Overall, it was a brilliant novel that combined elements of fantasy, particular the childish ones that we grew up reading and loving, and the conflicts of growing up, finding your place in the world, and finding direction. That sentence is both 100% correct and 100% misleading, though.

The Magicians was absolutely depressing, extremely difficult to trudge through, and full of the kind of bitter disillusionment that haunts adults. The story was totally valid, though. I mean, of course the same problems that plague normal people as they grow and realize the world kind sucks and you have to work at being happy would plague people with magical talents. I get it. It's well done and it's certainly not an incorrect or implausible thing to create inside of a world with magic. My issue I guess is WHY? Why would you tarnish everything people love about childhood fantasies like opening up the door to Narnia with the bitterness, meaningless sex, alcoholism, and general lack of motivation?

I'm torn because I think it's brilliant, but I also hate that it's such a bitter and depressing story that doesn't ever give me any sort of happiness. I know that it's a false illusion to expect the addition of magic to make people happy or that saving the world or a world is a fulfilling and worthwhile goal with no consequences. I get it. But if The Magicians serves as a cautionary tale about how magic won't make you happy, it goes too far for much too long. Quentin is a miserable hero. He's selfish, lacks all purpose, refuses to even attempt to find happiness, expects the world to just turn on a switch and change his worldview, and becomes this absolutely miserable and terrible human being who, despite being punched in the face multiple times throughout the book, has not been punched in the face often enough to suit me. I absolutely hate him and I hate people like him. Just because you're smart and mildly talented doesn't mean that you get to hold your hand out and expect happiness, especially if you are determined to be a selfish bastard the entire time and you don't care about anyone but yourself.

Reading The Magicians is like if Harry Potter was all Holden Caufield about life and always talking about how it sucks that Voldemort is, like, always trying to kill him and how on earth can he ever be happy  about anything? I mean, even Hermione wants to screw Ron and not him. Even though he doesn't even LIKE Hermione. She should at least want him a little. And magic is, like, hard, but sometimes easy, but it doesn't really make life better and it's not fair that people like Ron have good families that make him happy. Everything sucks and magic doesn't fix it and he might as well have just stayed under the stairs. I mean, so what if he has Ginnie? Sometimes she's just boring and even though he totally loves her, he thinks, he also wants to be wanted by everyone else. And also, he has a drinking problem. And life sucks.

I was so relieved at the end. I really enjoyed the final conflict at the end and the way it connected with the events at the beginning. The connection with Fillory and the final, unpublished book, was awesome and I found myself thoroughly enjoying that portion of the novel. I even enjoyed the fact that it did insert the terrible bitterness and disillusionment of real life with the addition of magical elements, but it doesn't work for 300+ pages. I couldn't continue to watch Quentin kick rocks and bitch the entire time. It's a cool concept, and while I can be 100% snarky, sarcastic, and bitter, I think fantasy should provide some sense of accomplishment and motivation and it's Quentin's flaw as a person that he never found that in the magical world.

If you're the kind of person who ever wondered what Narnia would be like if the kids discovered it in their 20's and had the kind of childhood that is screwed up and crazy like most people and they already had some bitter disappointment with the way things turn out, then this book is definitely perfect for you. However, if you think the main character of The Catcher in the Rye complained a lot and never really tried to make his life better, than you'll probably be as frustrated as I am by Quentin and The Magicians in general. It's a good read and it would be a good book for a book club for fantasy lovers because I can think of hours of conversations you could have about it, regardless of if you loved it, liked it, or hated it. It's definitely one of those books.

In the end, I can't rate it poorly because it was a great book. I can't rate it highly because it was too bitter for my tastes and the main characters never really grow as people. They only age and drown themselves in depression, drugs, sex, and alcohol. There are no redeeming qualities. So I'm torn and I had to go for 3 stars.

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