The Magicians Review
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A lonely teenage boy is picked from obscurity and begins to attend a magical school in Lev Grossman’s 2009 bestseller, The Magicians. Sounds familiar, right? Comparisons to the Harry Potter series may spring to mind, but this is no Hogwarts.

Quentin Coldwater, high school genius, is a depressed young man who exists in our world while desiring to live in Fillory, a fictional, Narnia-type world that he reads about in books. Quentin is much more Holden Caulfield than Harry Potter when he finds himself wandering through a portal that leads him to the entrance of Brakebills, a college dedicated to teaching magic. Knowing magic is real and dedicating himself to its study seems to be the answer to Quentin’s prayers—he’s no longer alone in the world.

The Magicians is two books in one. The first focuses on Quentin’s education and his navigation of the magical world that exists all around us. The years at Brakebills are the most charming part of the story. Readers will be enchanted by the magical college and the contemporary fantasy that Grossman weaves.

Teachers we meet, but never really get to know, help students learn their spells. Hints are dropped about their colorful backgrounds and achievements, but readers are left wondering about the staff’s origins. Meanwhile, a trip to Brakebills South gives a peek into another magic school—a much darker version, where students are pushed beyond measure by a sadist teacher, whom we yearn to know more about.

During his school years Quentin makes a group of friends (or at least a circle of other misanthropes like himself), and together they drink, smoke, cook fantastic meals, and have sex while defining themselves as magicians. Still, character development is a weaker part of the story. Very few layers are revealed, and characters become one dimensional: the punk, the gay guy, the fat kid, the innocent nerd, and the party girl. Quentin himself is always depressed, but he never knows why. He and friends, however, are not afraid to ask the questions that many fantasy readers have always wondered: when you have absolute power, what’s left? When you can do whatever you want, how should you proceed in life?

The second part of the story contributes some answers to their questions. After months of acting like spoiled rich kids, Quentin and his friends essentially hit bottom. With no direction, their post-graduation world becomes one big drug-filled party. They need something to save the group of lost souls from themselves, and it comes in the form of a quest. The graduates are given the opportunity to travel into another world—the world of Quentin’s obsession, Fillory. As they enter this new world, the novel begins to have much more traditional fantasy elements, though some readers may consider this a caricature of Narnia.

Grossman creates a very deep world in The Magicians, but he only skims the surface. The concept of flawed people dealing with power is intriguing after the usual over-the-top heroes of fantasy novels, but you have to care about characters to want to keep reading a series. The characters remain fairly unlikeable throughout the book, and there may be too many similarities to other fantasy series for some readers.

The Magicians is not for every fantasy fan, as it alternates frustrating reality with flawed dreams, but if you’re a fan of coming-of-age stories and would like to take a peek into the magical worlds around us, this may be a book you’ll love.

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