The Magicians

The Magicians  by  Lev Grossman

Quentin Coldwater is brilliant but miserable. He’s a senior in high school, and a certifiable genius, but he’s still secretly obsessed with a series of fantasy novels he read as a kid, about the adventures of five children in a magical land called Fillory. Compared to that, anything in his real life just seems gray and colorless.

Everything changes when Quentin finds himself unexpectedly admitted to a very secret, very exclusive college of magic in upstate New York, where he receives a thorough and rigorous education in the practice of modern sorcery. He also discovers all the other things people learn in college: friendship, love, sex, booze, and boredom. But something is still missing. Magic doesn’t bring Quentin the happiness and adventure he thought it would.

Then after graduation he and his friends make a stunning discovery: Fillory is real.1


Quentin was a book adventurer at heart. He traveled the magical world of Fillory and knew all the adventures from reading the books. He longed for a magical escape, the escape that would take him away from his mundane life and give him meaning again. He longed for magic and to travel to Fillory for real. During his mundane life, there is a break to his monotony and a glimmer of magic reveals itself. While chasing after a piece of paper during a cool fall day, Quinton stumbles upon a rolling green field on a hot summer day, he stumbles upon Brakebills.

Brake bills is an exclusive magical school. Those who are gifted are given a chance to go to this school of magic, however, not everyone given the chance is accepted. Those who do not pass the preliminary testing are sent back to their lives, and their memory is altered to have no recollection of Brakebills and it’s testing.

p.48 “The study of magic is not a science, it is not an art, and it is not a religion.  Magic is a craft.  When we do magic, we do not wish and we do not pray.  We rely upon our will and our knowledge and our skill to make a specific change to the world.”

Second year students have an exam to determine their “Disciplines.”  These disciplines are an area in which the students magical talents and tendencies lean towards.

p. 91  “Most of the students, and probably the faculty, were ambivalent about the whole idea of Disciplines.  They were socially divisive, the theory behind them was weak, and everybody ended up studying pretty much the same curriculum anyway, so what was the point? But it was traditional for every student to have one, so a Discipline every student would have.   Alice called it her magic bat mitzvah.”

Grossman creates a magical world that is exciting, yet very familiar. He has a style of writing that is descriptive, yet long winded at times. Mature, but offsets it with common vocabulary of teenagers. This creates relative conversations full of swearing, sex and humor. There are references to Harry Potter, Lord of the Rings, as well as a book series about Fillory which is uncannily similar to Narnia. The similarities to Harry Potter draw you in to the wonders of magic. It’s a high bar to reach the greatness of Harry Potter and some of the story pales in comparison due to this. I know that it would be impossible to write a story about magic and schools without the Harry Potter vibe, and I give Grossman credit for tackling this challenge and creating a story of his own. The story lives in the land of Potter but is forever drawing you in to the world of Fillory. Fillory pronounced Fillor-e as much as I wanted to call it Filliroy.

The Magicians is the first book, I own the second book and much assume there would be a third as that is the way things go these days. I was in a tug of war for this book. Drawn in and excited then pushed away by boredom and over the top descriptions.

Insert quote on the smell of ozone. I believe around the first appearance of the beast.

How does one know what ozone smells like, if anything? This is the joy of being a writer and he can create anything he would like. So if he would like to create and describe ozone, then that is his right as an author. It was just very strange to me.

I tired of some of the characters, especially Quinton. They are teenagers, and as such go through many experiences, emotions, and changes. Quinton is always searching for that magical thing that will make him happy. He is constantly unhappy and complaining no matter how lucky he is and how many of his dreams become reality. Even during a certain instance where he is in the wrong he tries to reverse the situation and feels justified in being the victim and angry. There is quite a handful of characters introduced which helps to alleviate some of this and leaves the possibility for more dimension in the story.

I never give up on a book or series and will always see it to its end. I’m hoping that the next book just needed the first book as a stepping stone, and that it will help to change some of my negative views on the book.

Although it is not a bad story, it has many great details, I am suggesting that you wait until I charge into battle against the second book, sacrificing myself for the sake of discovery and possibly shielding you from a waste of time and heartache. I had much hope for this story and it has many possibilities, I hope it can redeem itself.

*UPDATE* I wonder where the claim for this series is coming from. Is it over any merit of the author or is it the fact that all the situations are so familiar we are warmed by nostalgia. The references to Harry Potter are obvious. The similarities as well. The magical world of Filory is kin to Narnia. We trade a wardrobe for a grandfather clock. The children are not able to visit once they reach a certain age. Filory is a flat disc resting upon turtles, very much like Discoworld. I have to question where the line is drawn for an author complimenting another and reimagining popular tales? It is true that at times there seems to be no new ideas, but I believe there is a difference between compliment and riding tailcoats. Thoughts?

1. Book Summary : http://levgrossman.com/the-magicians-a-novel/

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