Review: The Magicians by Lev Grossman

February 17, 2015 4 stars, Audio Book, Book Review 20 ★★★★

Review: The Magicians by Lev GrossmanThe Magicians by Lev Grossman
Series: The Magicians #1
Published by Penguin Audio, Viking on August 11, 2009
Genres: Adult SFF, Fantasy
Pages: 402
Length: 17 hours, 24 minutes
Narrator: Mark Bramhall
Source: Publisher
Buy on Amazon
My Reviews in this series: The Magicians

*This book was provided by the Publisher for review. No compensation was provided and all opinions are strictly my own.

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 though it would.

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


I didn’t know whether to expect I would love or dislike The Magicians because I had heard so many conflicting opinions on the book. Essentially all of the readers I knew either loved it or hated it, with a few falling in between. I for one have to say I thoroughly enjoyed it and I think it is the type of book that you’ll either click with or you’ll be endlessly annoyed by the characters.

I found it so much easier to just turn my thoughts into a list:

– A coming of age story not of a young adult but of a new adult. It’s off to dorm life at college for Quentin.

– And who doesn’t love a fantasy novel featuring a magic school? This time tho it’s a magic college called Brakebills.

It has a realistic portrayal of life away at college, and later a jaded view of new adults after college. So, yes there are cliques, sex, fights, drinking and even some drugs. What do you expect? – that is the sometimes reality of college life and many of the lives of young folks in their early twenties. Every new adult doesn’t dabble in these things but you can be sure that they are exposed to it in some way or another. Heck these days most teens in highschool experience these thing. Hence I didn’t think this should come as a big shocker.

Quentin is a very self centered character, he’s selfish, a bit closed off, and rather bland in personality. He becomes a self indulgent ass in the second half but that is all an important part of the plot. But these traits might make him hard to attach to. I didn’t have a problem reading from his perspective and quite enjoyed following his progression into the magic world, then into his life afterwards.

– You’ve likely heard this book compared to Harry Potter but with a dark jaded protagonist and lots of sex and booze. There really isn’t that much sex and I didn’t find any of the scenes to be gratuitous, tho one was unexpected. I also have to note here that it’s not Harry Potter whatsoever but that I think the author purposefully put in elements that would remind readers of certain books, like those and Chronicles of Narnia. I think the elements used were a deliberate hat tip to those books, but also a bit of dark satire in a way. Personally I thought this was well done and found it entertaining.

– There were parts that dragged and I felt could have been left out entirely because even by the end of the book I didn’t see a need for a few areas. (particularly the game that reminded me of Quidditch but was more like chess – this whole section could have been left out without it effecting the plot at all.) Audio listening and reading the print in tandem helped speed up those parts for me. Since when I felt myself slowing down I would turn on the audiobook instead and then the excellent narration helped keep me going and get me thru a few of the slower paced parts.

– Somewhat of an overview: The book is broken up into chunks of which make up Quentin’s life once finding magic is real. His college years (Where Quentin commits himself to the cause of learning magic and makes friends – my favorite part), his after college time (where Quentin fully indulges his assholey-ness and self indulgence), and his discovery and journey into Fillory (Where Quenton is still mostly an asshole but realizes he’s being and asshole but can’t seem to pull himself out of his own asshole – magic land complete with talking animals, and quests some might find to be silly and out of sync with the preceding parts of the book). Ultimately all very entertaining and some in a dark – hardy har sort of way. I have no idea how to describe the dark kick I got out of this moody dude.

– Quentin is part of a group of young people who just can’t seem to be satisfied or content in life. Mostly it centers around Quentin and his inability to be happy. There was one point where he seems to have finds it momentarily but he almost seems set to sabotage himself. I’m sure you’ve known someone like that before in your life? I know I certainly have.

– There is definitely a message here, maybe even possible message – at least I took a few from reading it.

This kind of sets the tone for the whole book:

I should be happy, Quentin thought. I’m young and alive and healthy. I have good friends. I have two reasonably intact parents — viz., Dad, an editor of medical textbooks, and Mom, a commercial illustrator with ambitions, thwarted, of being a painter. I am a solid member of the middle-middle class. My GPA is a number higher than most people even realize it is possible for a GPA to be.

But walking along Fifth Avenue in Brooklyn, in his black overcoat and his gray interview suit, Quentin knew he wasn’t happy. Why not? He had painstakingly assembled all the ingredients of happiness. He had performed all the necessary rituals, spoken the words, lit the candles, made the sacrifices. But happiness, like a disobedient spirit, refused to come. He couldn’t think what else to do. – pg 5

This one was another part that I felt made a good point of what the book was ultimately about:

We human beings are unhappy all the time. We hate ourselves and we hate each other and sometimes we wish You or Whoever had never created us or this shit-ass world or any other shit-ass world. Do You realize that? So next time You might think about not doing such a half-assed job. – pg 349

While The Magicians wasn’t a sunshine happy fantasy book it was so worth the read that if you’re hesitating I think you should just take the plunge and give it a try. Ultimately ignore what everyone else says about it because it’s the type of book that is either going to push your good or bad buttons, and for a read like this I don’t think anyone would really be able to know unless they read it themselves. Enjoy, I did, and will definitely be continuing to finish the trilogy.

Stalk me!

Tabitha (Pabkins)

When I'm in the zone I can flip book pages faster than the eye can see - screaming "More Input!" I'm a book, yarn, & art supply hoarding goblin who loves to draw, make toys and craft all sorts of creepy cute things. My current habit is to listen to audio books while I'm arting it up!
Stalk me!

Latest posts by Tabitha (Pabkins) (see all)

20 Responses to “Review: The Magicians by Lev Grossman”

  1. Charlene @ Bookish Whimsy

    I’ve heard mostly good things about this book, but the darker nature of it wasn’t as appealing to me. I love your review though because I think you pretty thoroughly detailed your feelings on it so I feel more strongly that I will have to be in the mood for something different to read this, as I don’t think it is the kind of book that generally appeals to me. Thank you for your great review Tabitha!
    Charlene @ Bookish Whimsy recently posted…I Mustache You Some Questions memeMy Profile

    • Tabitha (Pabkins)

      I think that is important to know if the darker kind of emo vibe it has going on would appeal to you. And knowing that normally doesn’t then you’d probably end up in the camp that wouldn’t enjoy it. I know my friend Maggie really didn’t like it lol.
      Tabitha (Pabkins) recently posted…Review: The Magicians by Lev GrossmanMy Profile

    • Tabitha (Pabkins)

      I don’t know if I’d call it magic realism….but I guess I don’t know what an example of magic realism in a book would be. You got any commonly known examples?

      I really enjoyed the school portion though it was slower going because there wasn’t any PLOT really driving that at the time I started to wander “where are we going with all of this” until I get to the end that I see it’s all about his progression.
      Tabitha (Pabkins) recently posted…Review: The Magicians by Lev GrossmanMy Profile

  2. Catherine

    Oh this sounds really interesting. I love books that are a bit darker. And I’m really happy to know this is on audio! I will definitely give it a try. Brilliant review Tabitha! :]
    Catherine recently posted…Exciting News!My Profile

  3. Carmel @ Rabid Reads

    Sometimes there really is no middle ground when it comes to a story; you either love it or hate it, and I’m a list maker, so you scored extra points with me for your review format BTW. Fantasy is rarely 100% rainbows, but I’m thrilled that this book was a win for you. There’s only one way to find out in what column you’ll fall for a title such as this, and that is to READ IT. Now, will I? *shrugs* We’ll see!
    Carmel @ Rabid Reads recently posted…Fresh Meat: February 15-21st Speculative Fiction ReleasesMy Profile

  4. Sara L.

    I bought this last summer but haven’t read it yet, mostly because I have so many books to read anyways. But the dark, gritty slant was what intrigued me about The Magicians, because it would be something different. Not sure what I’ll think about a self-indulgent, assholey protagonist. *LOL!* But I’m looking forward to it either way.
    Sara L. recently posted…Recent Reads: “The Night Butterflies” by Sara LitchfieldMy Profile

  5. Leslie

    I’ve had this book on my shelf awhile, but my book club read it before I joined and at every meeting somehow it comes up and they all HAAAAATE it with a fiery passion. It got pushed down on the TBR list after the first few times, but I’m glad to hear you enjoyed it. I’m starting to realize that my book club and I have very different tastes, so I might have to give it a try sooner.

    I recommended The Girl with All the Gifts for this month. If they end up hating that, I might have to find a new book club.
    Leslie recently posted…Review: How to Live in a Science Fictional Universe by Charles YuMy Profile

  6. Kayla

    Very helpful review. I’ve kept putting this book off because I was unsure if I’d like it (I know it’s going to be either love or hate), but I think it’s time to go for it.

  7. Mogsy @ BiblioSanctum

    I’m one of those people who gave this book a middling rating. I really liked the beginning where Quentin and the gang were in school, but the story went downhill as soon as they graduated, and they all just became spoiled, whiny jerks. I’m glad you enjoyed the book more than I did though, it’ll make continuing the series easier, and I did think the books improved.
    Mogsy @ BiblioSanctum recently posted…Book Review: Your Servants and Your People by David TowseyMy Profile

  8. Micheline @ Lunar Rainbows Reviews

    I remember this book being everywhere a while back and I think what made me want to read it then was in fact that it was a more adult version of a magical school fantasy read. Of course, books with magical schools will forever be compared to HP but to me, I don’t really get that vibe from the blurb…and you seem to agree! I’m really curious to see if I’d click with this one as well, so I’ll have to check it out! Thanks for the lovely review Tabitha, I’m glad you enjoyed this one^^
    Micheline @ Lunar Rainbows Reviews recently posted…Waiting on Wednesday *110*My Profile