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)
The thing to know about this book is that it is not a 3.5 star book with a so-so plot and a so-so narrator. It is either a five star book or a two star book, depending on the listener. After reading the reviews, I went into this book with trepidation, but I am so glad that I did! I thought it was a fantastic read. I can't wait for the sequel.
The author does rely heavily on the fact that much of his listening audience will have had exposure to the Chronicles of Narnia as children. I think this is a useful plot device, not stealing nor sneering at Narnia. Without Narnia's influence on the listeners, this book wouldn't work at all. It is because the Chronicles of Narnia are embedded in our psyche that we can understand the main characters and why things go so totally wrong for them.
Fundamentally, this is a dark coming of age story with plenty of humor and a touch of horror. If that does not appeal to you on any level, you will hate this book from start to finish. I think everyone else should give this book a try.
If you had an imagination as a child, longed for magic to be real, or for quests to other worlds to be possible, you might love this book. If you had an awkward and painful youth that seemed as if you would never find happiness, you might love this book. If you are still quietly looking in the hidden depths of your soul for magic to be real, you might love this book.
If you're looking for "Harry Potter for Adults" you're going to hate this book. What a crude and misinformed/misinterpreted description that is. If you're going to have a fit about references to other works of fantasy (which exist in the universe of this book as well), you're going to hate this book.
This book is satire and realism poured onto the concepts of magic and being a teenager/early twenties. It is rough, muddy, painful, and beautiful- just like growing up. Grossman managed to capture the malaise of youth, the desires and hopes for the future. It is a meditation on happiness and the transition from childhood to adulthood and the dreams we had growing up that, if they were possible, might end up being quite different than we had imagined.
The performance by Bramhall was brilliant.
Finally, if you can't see some parts of yourself reflected back at you in these characters... I don't know what to say. They were immensely relatable, as were their actions.
A brilliant book, highest marks, and I am starting part two immediately.
Even though this book has the trappings of fantasy fiction, the best gauge of whether or not you will like it has more to do with whether or not you like writers like Michael Chabon. In fact, I would go so far as to say that this novel is what would have happened if Chabon had written the Harry Potter series. Think of it as The Chronicles of Narnia mashed up with The Mysteries of Pittsburgh. Characters screw up, screw around, and generally flounder through messy, complicated lives. Heroes turn out to be losers; losers turn out to be heroes. The gains and losses of trust, love, and faith between the characters is far more important to this book than the details of a magical world.
Even so, the book does have a magical world, along with fantastic creatures and a well-crafted, driving plot. My only complaint along those lines is that the pace sometimes clipped along rather TOO quickly, especially at the beginning. Quentin's whole five-year academic career passes in under 100 pages; those readers looking for something like Harry Potter's quirkily detailed mundane-but-fantastical school days will be disappointed. This is a book about people, not magic.
This is not a book for children; neither is it for escapists. But that doesn't mean it is a depressing or mean-spirited book: the characters' revelations (like those of David Copperfield, Elizabeth Bennett, or T. S. Garp) are hard-won and compromised by the losses they endured to achieve them, but they are genuine revelations, and the book is overall a hopeful one.
I'm a voracious audiobibliophile, mainly interested in speculative fiction, with the occasional mimetic fiction or non-fiction title sneaking in.
Brahmall's narration is spot-on in this absolute masterpiece of modern, literate fantasy. Comparisons to "Harry Potter for adults" don't begin to capture the depth and reality of this book. It owes more to The Once and Future King and acts more as a discomplement of Narnia than it alludes to Harry Potter, though indeed the book occurs in our present world, a world where all of these books exist. Quentin is an honestly voiced character throughout, growing though a middle class high-performance student upbringing, to bit by bit coming to terms with his adulthood, his powers, his mistakes, and himself. This is a book about finally growing up, about self-realization, about love and loss and longing, and yes, about magic. And Grossman's prose is wonderful, the story true, never saccharine, and, again, Brahmall's appropriately at-times dry, at-times tender, well-characterized narration is a delight, capturing the tone and spirit of the book and its characters. I can't really recommend this book enough; definitely one of the top 10 genre novels of the 2000s, perhaps the very best in its subgenre, facing competition only from Perdido Street Station, Finch, and American Gods. (For more taste comparisons, my other picks from the decade in other subgenres are: R. Scott Bakker's The Darkness That Comes Before, Paolo Bacigalupi's The Windup Girl, etc.) If you haven't read the book, or perhaps even if you have, enjoy these 17 and a half hours, and join the wait for the sequel in 2011.
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.
I listen to a bit of everything. Mostly Fantasy and paranormal romance with my wife. Along with mysteries/thrillers, even some sci-fi.
The Magicians isn't a bad book, in fact it's got the makings of a pretty good book if it weren't for the fact that this book is boring.
Quinten and his friends aren't the best of people, but they are characters with flaws and that's pretty neat to see. However, I can see why lots of reviews say they're bad characters. Granted I don't think they're bad, but I do think they can only be taken in small doses. Powering through this book isn't the best way to listen. At least for me, I could only take so much wallowing in self-pity before I wanted to throw myself out of the car.
Some people say that this is a Harry Potter for adults, but it's not. There's an aspect of it, but it's not even half the book. I thought there were some interesting things that happened there, but it's not the end all be all. The story draws upon some similarities to some popular childhood fiction. For better or worse, I didn't find an issue with it. It did make me chuckle at times, but again, it's not the big part of the story.
I think the story is about growing up and accepting responsibility for your actions and their consequences. I think it also serves as a way for the author to break down popular fantasy and put his own spin on both popular fantasy fiction and say look at some of the tropes here's my take on them. I won't say they all work, but it's a good attempt and it didn't feel lazy.
As I mentioned, it's a boring book. There are events that happen, but it's so few and far between, that it was hard to hold my interest. We're still trying to figure out if we're going to listen to books 2 and 3 in the series. I think we will, but it's not on the top of the list.
If you are looking for a Harry Potter clone, this is not it. If, you enjoy fantasy novels, but wonder what they would could be with a more realistic point of view, this is a wonderful interpretation that melds classic fantasy tropes with a true reflection of flawed characters in extraordinary circumstances.
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.
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.
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.
When I discovered that Lev Grossman is the brother of Austin Grossman (Soon I Will Be Invincible) I was immediately curious to see how their prose compared. It turns out Lev's writing is COMPLETELY different but no less brilliant.
The first half of this book is amazing. Even though you know there will be revelations they are still surprising and they just keep coming.
After graduation though, it just plods for a loooong time. It's also around this time that Quentin does something that completely removes any chance of his remaining a sympathetic character. The whole bit in Narnia...um, I mean "Fillory" is much more tedious than the mundane world but maybe that's intentional. Anyway, the ending ties it all together fairly well.
My biggest complaint involves the drinking. Not the fact that everybody drinks (and believe me they do...HEAVILY...ALL THE TIME), but it's superfluous and pretentious to name all the various drinks as if anybody cares what TYPE of wine they drank way too much of for every single occasion.
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