Book Cover
Title The Magicians
Author Lev Grossman
Cover Art Didier Massard
Publisher Penguin - 2009
First Printing Penguin - 2009
Book Cover
Title The Magician King
Author Lev Grossman
Cover Art Didier Massard
Publisher Penguin - 2011
First Printing Penguin - 2011
Book Cover
Title The Magician's Land
Author Lev Grossman
Cover Art Didier Massard
Publisher Penguin - 2015
First Printing Penguin - 2014
Category Fantasy
Warnings None
Main Characters Quentin, Eliot, Alice, Josh, Janet, Julia, Plum
Main Elements Wizards
Website Official Lev Grossman Homepage

Click to read the summaryThe Magicians

Click to read the summaryThe Magician King

Click to read the summaryThe Magician's Land

My brother gave me this book for my birthday. I hadn't heard about it before, but he described it as Harry Potter for adults. To be honest if I had seen this book in the store I would have assumed the "magician" part of the name was sort of metaphorical, but it's very literal in this case.

Harry Potter for adults is kind of a good description of it. First of all the students are in a magical college/university (I LOVED the entrance exam, so cool), and as such are involved in things young adults of that age are expected to be involved in, such as alcohol, sex and drugs. This is not your run of the mill sweet and happy Narnia story....and bringing up Narnia brings up Fillory.

When you first start reading the book you will discover that it refers heavily to a Narnia-like world created by a man named Christopher Plover, one of the founders of modern English fantasy, up there with J.R.R. Tolkien and C.S. Lewis. Now when a book is based on another, I liked to have the required background, even if it isn't necessary to the story. So I set out to find the Fillory books...but man, those books are hard to find. I'll leave you to figure out why...

But the comparisons to Harry Potter end quickly. Only the first third of the book actually covers Quentin's five year education, a very bizarre thing and of great interest, but still brief. But unlike Harry Potter, after wizards graduate they are just tossed back into regular society to do whatever they like. There isn't a secret wizard world in parallel with ours. And as such, aside from their ability to fly or make things disappear, the graduates are just like the rest of, probably even more maladjusted. As the Dean told them, the reason they are capable of magic is just not because they are smart, but because they feel they are alienated from the rest of society and are looking for an escape. The new grads become listless, without purpose, their lives revolving around alcohol and trying to get around the mindnumbing boredom they feel. It was depressing to read, and yet oddly fascinating. When dreams of magic is an escape from the humdrum of life, and then you discover magic exists and it's just as humdrum as everything else, you don't have much to cling to anymore.

But don't get me wrong. It was a very interesting book. It took me nearly a month to read, not because it was so boring I had to keep putting it down, but rather I had to stop now and then to absorb it properly. I loved the book, it was so different from all the other wizarding books I'd read. Kind of makes you think about what you wish for, you might get want you wanted, only to find out it wasn't what you thought it was. Like if you had discovered that your childhood Santa Claus is real, but he turns out to be just some fat guy that likes to watch TV and abuse elves, that kind of thing. I know I'm probably making the book sound like a real downer (and it sort of is) but it makes it more "real" and less fantasy. Makes it more plausible rather than less.

The characters are seriously flawed people, though for all intents and purposes they are good people. Just living in a world that holds no meaning or purpose for them. It has angst, but it's not that annoying teenage angst that's all about worrying about whether or not someone will like you, or if you are pretty enough, or if people think you are cool. This is what comes after.

Even Fillory isn't what one (especially Quentin) expects. Again, the hope that one's dreams will fix all one's ills. But Grossman does an amazing job of weaving references to Fillory into his novel, filling us in on all the details we need to know. And there is a little twist at the end of the tale that floored me, I really didn't see it coming. Actually there were two twists, but one I might have been able to guess, but that second one really tied the whole story together in a kind of horribly ironic way.

I hope we don't have to wait long for the sequel called The Magician King, coming out some time next year. As I researched this review the author had apparently mostly finished, just needed to pull together the bits in the beginning and then let loose and allow the story to race to it's conclusion (read his blog, he put it much better than I can)

November 2012

I was saving the second book in the series because I didn't know (and still don't) when the third book was coming out. But my curiousity won out.

We return to Quentin a couple of years after the last book left off and while he's content where he is, he feels he is missing something. After all, shouldn't he be having adventures and returning as a hero? This book is really all about that. What does it really mean to have an adventure? What does it mean to be a hero? And what is the cost? The grass isn't always greener on the other side, sometimes you are already in the place you wanted to be.

I enjoyed this one more than the first. Quentin isn't the depressing narrator he was in the first, there's more of an upbeat tone to the story. However before you thing Grossman has turned his characters into happy campers, we now learn what Julia went through after she was denied entrance to Brakebills. Much as I didn't care much for her as a person (if you thought the other characters were depressing, wait till you get intimate with hers) it was a fascinating journey she went on.

I had to actually slow down my reading of the book, to enjoy it, to pause and think about it a little bit. No, this isn't great literature or anything like that, but there's still more to it than meets the eye. And Grossman's snarky writing is a pleasure to read. It takes the sparkle and shine off of magic and exposes what it might actually be if it were real. Kinda messy, imperfect, but hey, it's still magic.

Warning though, while the book has a complete ending, it is also a kind of cliffhanger, so you might want to wait till the last book in the trilogy comes out, otherwise you'll be in the same situation as me...desperate to find out what happens next but forced to wait it out.

January 2016

Well, it was three years since I read the second book and 5 since I read the first. In that time, I'd forgotten a lot of what happened in the previous two books, including major events which fortunately I was generally reminded of as the story progressed. But that means I really didn't get the full impact of the story. At time I was struggling to recall characters, events and places and so was often confused. So I won't give a real review, because that wouldn't be fair. I need to re-read everything from the start, but its a testament to my enjoying these books so much that I do want to invest the time to read them again, and all back to back.

But much as I struggled, I could appreciate the conclusion and think its a fitting one. The themes of growing up, facing life and not running away, not clinging to the past and making a new future continue. I don't think there are many characters in other novels that develop as much as Quentin Coldwater does in the course of this trilogy.

Now, looking forward to the TV series starting next week. I thought it might be useful to jog my memory but what I've read seems to imply a lot will change to bring it to the small screen. I guess one advantage of not remembering everything is I'll be able to enjoy the show and not cringe at all the differences!

Posted: December 2010


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