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
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
"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)
Likes to listen while doing chores; likes to write reviews while he should be doing chores.
This book definitely has a good setup. The magic school piece is not an innovation, but the story of it is pleasant enough. That is about the first half of the book. The second half is about seeking and finding a Narnia-like world. It is not merely similar to Narnia, it is an intentional reference. I enjoyed this premise as it has the effect of bringing adult fans of childhood fantasy novels along with the protagonists on their adventure.
What fantasy reader hasn't wanted to make that trip? This was my favorite element.
I can't give universal praise though. The trip to Fillory (Narnia) has bad narrative pacing. Someone makes a surprise discovery of a clue; from there, the adventure to get there is a few short pages of magical tinkering. Once they get there, they are given a quest, because that is what you do when you get to a magical land. They make short work of the quest and then it's over.
It is pretty clear that Grossman is trying to make a statement about the disillusionment of seeing childhood fantasy through an adult's eyes. Grossman is making a parody of children's fantasy by making the same mistakes. That is ok, but he doesn't do it with any kind of wink to the reader. He mocks fantasy with a grimace, not a smirk. It left me feeling like, even though I was a kid, I was such a sucker to love fantasy.
The other depressing element is the protagonist, Quentin. He's a kid that is basically given everything including brains, magical powers, a busty girlfriend, and the opportunity to live out his childhood dream. He spends the whole book wallowing in self-pity almost to the last sentence. I am not sure whether this is a critique on the near universal upbeat attitude of most fantasy characters. Seems likely, but it also makes it a burden to read. Quentin carries pubescent angst into his late 20s. It is hard to watch a child not grow up. Presumably, significant experiences in a story like this should change a character. Nope.
The reader was good. He did some good characterizations. One character he voiced, I just wanted to punch in the face. I guess I mean that as a sort of a compliment, The voice was certainly distinctive and that was the case with most in his reading. That one was just nails on a chalkboard for me.
I probably will not continue with the series. My problem is that I need a character to root for or against. This book didn't really give me one.
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.
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.
Absolutely. This is phenomenal storytelling, true-to-life, and an overall enriching experience, especially when considered with the sequel. The characters are dynamic, the conflicts exciting, the resolutions unexpected and satisfying, and the villain absolutely brilliant and terrifying. I hope to see much, much more from this author.
Getting right down to it, basic sentence structure, word-choice, and flow of narration. It is expertly done. I also loved how human the heroes are, being completely relatable instead of thinly-drawn paragons that we see too often in fantasy series. This is as much a growing-experience for the characters as to the reader/listener.
Bramhall is perfect. It is hard to pick a favorite, but his Eliot was particularly good.
It is impossible to describe why without spoilers, but the final act is incredibly moving and satisfying.
I am utterly baffled by the criticisms that come in some variation of "this isn't Harry Potter." I am a HUGE Harry Potter fan, but come on people, that is like criticizing The Notebook because it wasn't as scary as The Exorcist. It makes absolutely no sense whatsoever. The Magicians is fantasy literature at its best and is meant for a mature, intelligent audience. If you are truly unsatisfied with the ending, which I found to be quite happy actually, I hope you give the second book a chance, because it is leaps and bounds better than the first, which I dearly love anyway.
The only criticism I would level against this book is that the pacing seemed a bit too fast in the school section. I would have enjoyed that as its own book.
I read this because a friend recommended it as a "Harry Potter for adults." (I loved the Harry Potter series.)
And there were several elements that made this very enticing: a school only for magicians, another "magic" world, a special game that only magicians play, super-smart slightly outcast kids in the real world who excel at magic school, a journey to another world and a chance to bring down evil.
HOWEVER... I ended up being very disappointed. The story spends way too much time focused on how bored these super-smart magicians are, and how much they drink, and how true happiness eludes them, and how they keep to themselves and are far too cool for the rest of the school, their families, and basically the rest of the world. It was impossible to get into the characters because I felt no sympathy for them. I wish there was more time spent on the magic and the other world, instead of detailing the relationships among the main group of kids.
The narrator's monotone did nothing to help the dreariness of listening to the teen angst that ruled each twist of the story. He's one of those narrators who basically has the same voice for every character, and though he made a valiant effort at various accents, his performance fell short.
This had much less global appeal than I had hoped - I am not a fan of this type of book, and found the School of Magic premise not my thing. But, the story arc was good, characters interesting and well developed, and nicely written overall. I listened to the end and enjoyed it. It had a melancholic sweetness that I appreciated.
I've spent far too long trying to convince myself that I will eventually like the characters and the story enough to look forward to continuing to listen. Today, I admitted to myself that it's just not happening. No particularly likable characters, no gripping drama, just dreary stories of their coming to grips with this
The performance was really quite good, though I did find the tone to be sometimes a bit boring... but for what Bramhall was working with, he did a phenomenal job.
I wanted to like this book, so much. I like the IDEA behind the book, a disaffected teenager finds that magic doesn't solve all of his problems, and how that fits into the real world. I even like the excessive nods to Narnia. I wanted to know how it ended, which is why I gave it two stars, though it's probably more a 1.5.
But my god this book was boring. I kept waiting for something to happen and when something finally WOULD happen it would pass by quickly leaving several more pages of nothing to follow. Despite all this nothingness, most of the characters were undeveloped, unlikable, and unsympathetic.
Also, good god Grossman - enough with the similes. It's like he took the English language and threw it in the washing machine and it bled all over everything. I would have liked this book if he had skipped all the boring nothingness and focused on the interesting.
I loved this book. its a little rough and it does not have a good role model but for everyone that didn't have and easy transition from childhood to adulthood there are moments in this book that you should relate too. its a great contrast to Harry potter (which I love) where all the main characters are almost saintlike. give it a shot. I really liked it.
Audiobook Junkie... Love all types of Science Fiction
Lev Grossman creates a fantastic world of magic. However, it does not live up to expectations. The main character becomes distasteful and depressing. Many parts of the book seemed rushed while other parts were drawn out with boring talk. I would have liked to see more adventure, discovery and have a hero emerge or at least find some redeeming qualities in the characters. I give it 3 stars for its potential. I hope Lev grows as a writer through this book and produces a better sequel.
I'm a grad student with very little time to edit reviews because I'm editing research papers. Forgive the typos. They're made with love.
Seriously, I wanted to like this book. It's just that every time it started to go somewhere it became bland again. It was like someone wanted to write an adult version of Harry Potter and Narnia mixed with what every reader yearns for - a chance to go inside their favorite book... but the whole thing was squandered on this guy's rainy-day mood.
The whole book was "meh" from the sex to the chance to go to a wizard school to the arrival in a fantasy land from novels. Meh? Really? This author needed to breathe more life into his characters and not make the whole experience so mundane and depressing.
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