Book Review: The Magicians by Lev Grossman

The Magicians (Lev Grossman, 2009) – Quentin Coldwater learns that magic, along with the land of his childhood novels, is real.


Magic for young adults has never been more angsty and tedious.



Part Harry Potter and part The Chronicles of Narnia, The Magicians is an amalgamation of fantasy clichés. Young teenagers walk through the proverbial wardrobe and emerge in Brakebills, a boarding school for magic, where they finally find their sense of belonging.

Well, sort of. Magic in Lev Grossman’s world is not that easy to love. It is low on the sense of wonder, difficult, and painfully dull. Tons involve the tedious learning of various languages, repetitive spell-casting, and constant barrages of self-doubt.

It is no wonder the adolescents remain sullen in their discovery of their gifts, finding little joy in anything other than their childish brawls, borne out of jealousy. Drowning in the mundanity of their learning journey, these introductory chapters took their time.

The story only truly begins in Fillory, when the setting of the books they loved turned out to be real. Four boys and girls of Brakebills are poised to become Kings and Queens, should they survive the threats of beasts in more ways than one.

The danger would be going back, or staying still. The only way out was through. The past was ruins, but the present was still in play.

It would be easier to care, if these kids weren’t such unlikable narcissists. Our protagonist Quentin Coldwater proves his name especially apt, dashing every bit of optimism that should be with the founding of a magical new land.

Consistently disillusioned, he sinks himself deeper into the pit that he digs himself into, dragging his friends along with it. A frustrating love triangle ensues to boot. Compared to its genre neighbours? It is all rather depressing to watch their cyclical betrayals, no matter how much the novel tries to justify their angst.

A magician is strong because he feels pain. He feels the difference between what the world is and what he would make of it. Or what did you think that stuff in your chest was? A magician is strong because he hurts more than others. His wound is his strength.

But at least, the mood lightens on occasion upon random acts of humour – in alcoholic bears, warrior bunnies, and absurdly enough, a far-sighted cacodemon.

What little bit of fun end with the entrance of the misguided antagonist, who trades in jokes for pure fatal danger. High stakes make for rare uncertain odds, turning in a thrilling finale that is worth toughing the bumpy ride out.

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