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The Magicians: A Novel | [Lev Grossman]

The Magicians: A Novel

Quentin Coldwater is brilliant but miserable. A senior in high school, he's still secretly preoccupied with a series of fantasy novels he read as a child, set in a magical land called Fillory. Imagine his surprise when he 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 craft of modern sorcery.
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Audible Editor Reviews

Intellectually gifted but emotionally unfulfilled, Quentin Coldwater is as much at sea as any high school senior. He still takes refuge in the fantasy novel series he read as a kid, waiting for happiness to fall in his lap. Surprisingly, it does indeed seem to when an elite and secret college of magic recruits him. Mark Brahmall wonderfully inflects the gaggle of fallible little geniuses Quentin grows up with there: Elliott the flaming drunkard, Janet the flashy attention hog, Alice the wallflower, Josh the bumbling frat boy, and Penny the punk rocker. This is not the nice and polite world of Hogwarts. These 17-year-olds spend five years drinking, screwing, cursing, and occasionally buckling down to work with spells that sound more like chemistry labs than fantastic miracles.

Magic is hard, and growing up proves even harder. Brahmall ages this group of would-be adventurers, gradually inserting the pessimistic uncertainty that creeps in as their graduation approaches, and then the slovenly vulgarity that accompanies their post-grad malaise in New York. But their voices find fresh purpose and energy when Penny discovers that Fillory, the magical land of those books from their youth, is real. Fraught with the tensions sprouting between them, each member of Quentin's posse has reasons to escape into Fillory. Brahmall gives voice to everything from a birch tree to an ancient ram, as the group's quest for a brighter future turns ever more ugly and alarming. Quentin's once idyllic dream now corrupted, he struggles to regain a sense of self and return to the more banal hostilities of the real world.

This is a story narrated with all the wonderment and gravitas inherent in the great tradition of magical coming-of-age tales, to be sure, but it rests firmly on the rocky foundations of a realistic human volatility and longing that may want to keep the characters snatching defeat from the jaws of victory to their bitter end. This world is nothing like Narnia or Middle Earth, and listeners with knowledge of those places will find plenty of insider references here to keep them laughing through the disasters. Grossman has captured a shamefully universal set of psychological quandaries, and Brahmall has expressed them in tones that are terrifyingly recognizable. —Megan Volpert

Publisher's Summary

A thrilling and original coming-of- age novel about a young man practicing magic in the real world.

Quentin Coldwater is brilliant but miserable. A senior in high school, he's still secretly preoccupied with a series of fantasy novels he read as a child, set in a magical land called Fillory. Imagine his surprise when he 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 craft of modern sorcery.

He also discovers all the other things people learn in college: friendship, love, sex, booze, and boredom. Something is missing, though. Magic doesn't bring Quentin the happiness and adventure he dreamed it would. After graduation, he and his friends make a stunning discovery: Fillory is real. But the land of Quentin's fantasies turns out to be much darker and more dangerous than he could have imagined. His childhood dream becomes a nightmare with a shocking truth at its heart.

At once psychologically piercing and magnificently absorbing, The Magicians boldly moves into uncharted literary territory, imagining magic as practiced by real people, with their capricious desires and volatile emotions. Lev Grossman creates an utterly original world in which good and evil aren't black and white, love and sex aren't simple or innocent, and power comes at a terrible price.

©2009 Lev Grossman; (P)2009 Penguin

What the Critics Say

"This is a book for grown-up fans of children's fantasy and would appeal to those who loved Donna Tartt's The Secret History. Highly recommended." (Library Journal)
"Provocative, unput-downable....one of the best fantasies I've read in ages." (Fantasy & Science Fiction)
"The Magicians is to Harry Potter as a shot of Irish whiskey is to a glass of weak tea." (George R.R. Martin)

What Members Say

Average Customer Rating

3.8 (4358 )
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4.1 (3436 )
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  •  
    Amy Cambridge, MA, United States 02-09-12
    Amy Cambridge, MA, United States 02-09-12 Member Since 2009
    HELPFUL VOTES
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    "Unsympathetic Characters"

    Although the idea was reasonably good, this book completely failed to win me over. Foolishly, I kept listening on and on, convinced that soon the main character and his friends would give me a reason to care about them, and it just never happened. I also instinctively knew that the story wasn't really about kids attending a college for magicians, and I was curious to figure out what it really was about. How disappointed I was when, 7/8 of the way through the story it finally became clear, and it was even more dull than the story had been up to that point. I have never written such a negative review, but I don't want others to pay for this expensive book and then spend hours listening to such a disappointing story. If the general idea of young adults entering into a fantasy world that turns out not to be the Narnia they, (and mostly, the author), obsessed about as kids, try the Fionavar Tapestry, which is more engaging and gives the reader more reason to care.

    4 of 5 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Jodi 10-21-11
    Jodi 10-21-11

    Since having kids - the luxury of sitting down and reading a book is out of the question. Now I can put on good book for just me, or one for the kids while driving and everyone is at PEACE and no one is YELLING. Life is good.

    HELPFUL VOTES
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    "So bad I couldn't finish"

    I tried hard to like this book. I listen through the first part thinking that I just needed to get into the characters. But the longer I listen to it, the more depressed I became. This story doesn't pull the reader into the story, it just pulls the reader down.

    14 of 19 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Dubi New York, NY, United States 08-25-14
    Dubi New York, NY, United States 08-25-14

    People say I resemble my dog (and vice-versa). He can hear sounds I can't hear, but I'm the one who listens to audiobooks.

    HELPFUL VOTES
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    Story
    "No Comparison To Harry"

    Let me top this off with the bottom line: There are thousands of Audible titles that I will consider listening to before I ever go back to this series. No, not even if I exhaust the rest of the Audible library.

    So this is how you go from four stars to one and a half stars: You start out well, with potential for five stars, by casting a misfit from Brooklyn as a college student who goes to a magical school instead of Princeton, learning about magic and the magical world as a young adult (rather you-know-who as a middle schooler).

    But then you go down to three stars when you rush through five years of college with nothing much happening -- which, I've since read, is supposed to be the point, except that it's, in a word, pointless. I'm sure you can name me a classic or two of modern literature that is about people being bored, and I'm just as sure that Lev Grossman is hardly comparable to the classic authors who wrote them.

    Nearly ten hours in, you go down to two stars when your "hero" realizes that after nothing much happening to that point, the adventure is about to begin. He actually says exactly that to himself, in case you as reader have failed to notice that you've so far wasted nearly ten hours of your life listening to nothing much, hoping that it may eventually lead to something interesting.

    Then the adventure becomes completely nonsensical, by which i mean, nothing makes sense, nothing is connected to what has come before and what comes later, and everything is completely inane. This too may have been the point, with Narnia now the target of the author's cynical satire in place of HP. But what good is a joke if no one knows it's a joke? And if it's not in the least bit funny? Or fun? (Not to mention that, as nonsensical as Narnia may be, it actually has meaning on a higher level.)

    That knocks the story down to one star, although there is a shred of redeeming quality in the first few hours for the overall rating to remain at two stars, for a net of one and a half. This book is, plain and simple, an overlong exercise in mental you-know-what, a book critic writing a book that is actually a poorly veiled criticism of two of the most beloved fantasy series ever. I for one and not pleased to have this fraud perpetrated against me.

    The Magicians has been called Harry Potter for adults, by no less than the author himself, who justifies his carbon copy of the HP formula by claiming some sort of parody. I call bullpucky. Harry Potter is (figuratively) magical and enchanting while tackling many of the same themes. This book is no more and no less an exercise in mental you know what by a critic egotistical enough to believe that he can write a worthwhile book himself, and in the end is less than a pimple on the scar on Harry Potter's forehead.

    6 of 8 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Shane Valparaiso, IN, USA 08-14-09
    Shane Valparaiso, IN, USA 08-14-09 Member Since 2014
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    "NOT Harry Potter for grownups"

    I won't go quite so far as to give this a two-star rating, but it's really not so great. It starts off with some potential, but once it gets moving along it's really more depressing than anything. I don't mind "dark" or more adult fantasy novels, but this is more of a novel about a bunch of boring, alcoholic, screwed up people that just happen to live in a world where magic is real.

    30 of 43 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Keith Jones 08-22-09
    Keith Jones 08-22-09 Member Since 2011
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    "An entertaining adult take on classic themes"

    Overall this book was entertaining, and the story, particularly the first half, was engaging. As previous reviewers have mentioned, there are times when it gets tedious. Also pointed out to some extent is the fact that the characters can be somewhat unsympathetic. I think this is compelling, in that the author is attempting to create a "reality story," fraught with human failings, in a fantasy context; so that there is not a clearly defined hero.

    I disagree with those who claim that this book is a collection of stolen ideas. The book is a play on the Narnia concept as a vehicle for a modern day coming of age story, and is far from an allegory. Furthermore, the fact that a major setting is a school for magicians no more makes The Magicians a rip-off of Harry Potter than such presence makes Harry Potter a rip-off of Discworld. I found this story to be quite original and a refreshing departure from the typical fantasy/magician story.

    10 of 14 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Molly San Francisco, California, United States 01-28-15
    Molly San Francisco, California, United States 01-28-15
    HELPFUL VOTES
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    "Uncaptivating, despite a magical backdrop"

    I had heard good things about this series so I was eager to give it a read, but the book slogged and seemed to go on far longer than necessary. I don't need to have likable characters to enjoy a book, but this was filled with such drab, familiar characters that it didn't keep my attention.

    I thought the world was well-built, but served only as a reminder of the books depressing point: cynical, uninteresting people will be cynical and uninterested wherever they find themselves.

    The narration was totally fine, but not memorable. Didn't lose anything by listening to it rather than reading, but didn't gain much either.

    1 of 1 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Truth Speaker Asheville, NC, United States 11-22-14
    Truth Speaker Asheville, NC, United States 11-22-14

    Truth Speaker

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    "Adult Harry Potter fans should READ this series"

    Lev Grossman writes a good story, with a mature view of the world and a tart view of magical tales. If you're an adult who enjoyed Harry Potter, you'll find a witty twist in the series, well worth your time.
    That said, I wish I'd read these books instead of listening.
    Only after I finished all three books, and starting another narrated by Mark Bramhall, did I realize why I have a faint distaste for this series:
    Every character in The Magicians et al sounds snotty, supercilious, or whiny. I thought that was Lev Grossman, but having sampled another author's works read by this narrator, I now know, it's Bramhall.
    If you have a choice, and can read -- I have eye sight problems, so rarely do -- buy this series in written form, and supply your own voice.

    1 of 1 people found this review helpful
  •  
    David San Diego, CA, United States 10-19-14
    David San Diego, CA, United States 10-19-14 Member Since 2011
    HELPFUL VOTES
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    "Low Fantasy"
    What would have made The Magicians better?

    I think that my main issue was with the character of Quentin. The description of him as miserable is an accurate one, and it made caring for him and his ordeals difficult. He aroused not dislike in me, but apathy. If I am not interested in a character, I won't stick with the story.


    You didn’t love this book... but did it have any redeeming qualities?

    The narrator did a very good job in giving each of the characters their own voice. You got a sense for the character through him.


    1 of 1 people found this review helpful
  •  
    LJM Tewksbury, MA United States 09-18-14
    LJM Tewksbury, MA United States 09-18-14
    HELPFUL VOTES
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    "SO SO!"
    Would you recommend this book to a friend? Why or why not?

    The story was confusing and boring at times.


    Could you see The Magicians being made into a movie or a TV series? Who should the stars be?

    No because it would be compared to Harry Potter. Harry Potter would put The Magicians to shame.


    1 of 1 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Steve Massachusetts, USA 09-16-14
    Steve Massachusetts, USA 09-16-14 Member Since 2013
    HELPFUL VOTES
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    "Adult Narnia I guess?"

    I didn't find this book really that great. The first part a rushed magic school and the second part a mysterious fantastical land accessed through the real world that was hinted at through books in the world. The foreshadowing for that part of the book was huge, you had to know it was coming. Yes, there is sex and teenage issues in it that games with more adult and a more gritty than a young adult novel, but it's not fantastic. It was a decent book, but it didn't grip me in a huge way.

    1 of 1 people found this review helpful

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