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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

3.7 (2671 )
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4.1 (1934 )
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  •  
    Ki Seattle, WA 04-30-11
    Ki Seattle, WA 04-30-11 Member Since 2008
    HELPFUL VOTES
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    "Not an average book"

    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.

    60 of 60 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Samuel Montgomery-Blinn Durham, NC USA 11-07-10
    Samuel Montgomery-Blinn Durham, NC USA 11-07-10 Member Since 2001

    I'm a voracious audiobibliophile, mainly interested in speculative fiction, with the occasional mimetic fiction or non-fiction title sneaking in.

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    "Amazing. Wonderfully narrated."

    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.

    29 of 29 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Matthew Silver Spring, MD, United States 06-09-11
    Matthew Silver Spring, MD, United States 06-09-11 Member Since 2009
    HELPFUL VOTES
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    "A book more about people than magic"

    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.

    37 of 38 people found this review helpful
  •  
    LaLa Philadelphia PA 09-18-09
    LaLa Philadelphia PA 09-18-09 Member Since 2007

    Omphaloskepsis

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    "satisfying"

    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.

    18 of 18 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Keith Jones 08-22-09
    Keith Jones 08-22-09 Member Since 2009
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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.

    9 of 9 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Katie Mentor, OH, United States 01-25-10
    Katie Mentor, OH, United States 01-25-10 Member Since 2006
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    "very entertaining"

    Don't go into this book expecting a Narnia or Harry Potter type tale. The author is clearly, even mockingly, using that sort of fantasy as a scaffold to tell a deeper story. He does it well and I found myself hoping for a sequel when the book ended.

    7 of 7 people found this review helpful
  •  
    james Hartselle, AL, United States 05-21-10
    james Hartselle, AL, United States 05-21-10 Member Since 2004
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    "Wow, then meh, then it ends"

    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.

    38 of 42 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Richard D. Shewman Erie, PA United States 10-10-09
    Richard D. Shewman Erie, PA United States 10-10-09 Member Since 2001

    rshewman

    HELPFUL VOTES
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    "decent book but could hav been better"

    Lev Grossman takes the Harry Potter concept (minus HP and company), ages his main characters to college freshmen, and turns Hogwarts into a private college in upstate New York. As strange as that mix sounds, he does a decent job of making it engaging while they're in school.

    The last third of the book goes off on a different tangent. After they graduate the book continues to follow them through the strugles of twentysomething angst and adventures in alternate universes. It seemed as if Grossman was trying to meld HP and Narnia into one story and it quite didn't work. Though I confess that after finishing the story I checked to see if Grossman had anything else available on audible. It was enjoyable, even if it didn't entirely work.

    As everyone notes, the darker themes in the last third, the sex and the drugs are more suited for a crowd a bit more mature than "audible kids".

    4 of 4 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Carl West Palm Beach, FL, United States 02-01-10
    Carl West Palm Beach, FL, United States 02-01-10 Member Since 2001
    HELPFUL VOTES
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    "Not Harry Potter"

    If you are looking for another Harry Potter look elsewhere. There is dirty language, sex, depression, drinking, and more at this magicians school. Yes the main character is to into self loathing and feeling sorry for himself much of the time but it is also more human and "real" than the Harry Potter series is all Disney like. The story also moves more slowly and without the fun than the Potter series. However this book is different and has depth. Try it if you aren't afraid of trying something different.

    The reader is so so.

    20 of 24 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Ninjachinchin SOUTHWEST RANCHES, FL, United States 02-14-13
    Ninjachinchin SOUTHWEST RANCHES, FL, United States 02-14-13 Member Since 2011

    Books make the world a better place

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    "DON'T BE FOOLED...THIS IS NO HARRY POTTER!"
    What did you like best about this story?

    I have to say that I did like this audiobook and I'm glad I bought it. The writing is sharp, clever and witty with genuinely surprising twists but to those who might think this is a lighthearted fantasy novel, don't be fooled. The title may sound fun and harmless but this book is not for kids. The Magicians is more for young adults and adults. It does contain humor and fantasy but it is essentially a dark novel. The characters are complex, spoiled, bratty and very cynical and almost all of them have their dreams and expectations shattered at some point.


    Which scene was your favorite?

    The ending (I will not spoil it) was my favorite because I love strong women!


    Any additional comments?

    The story starts off with Quentin, a brilliant but depressed teenager, who is dissatisfied with his life, his friendship(s) and his future. His outlook is bleak and so he finds solace in a group of beloved children's books, about a magical land called Fillory. One day Quentin and his friends are on their way to a college interview when a tragic turn of events lands Quentin in a very different but very special sort of exam. Thereafter he finds himself enrolled in Brakesbills, a secret magic college hidden away in upstate New York. Brakesbills has cliques and power circles, and people stuck on the outside while life on campus is like any other college. There’s a good amount of booze, fighting, profanity and also casual sex. The first part of the book deals with Quentin’s and his friends’ magical education but we also get glimpses into the bitter afterlife Brakebills graduates can look forward to.

    When the newly graduated students leave Brakesbills they go to live in New York City where they quickly become bored and disillusioned. Having no direction or guidance they easily fall into a hedonistic lifestyle. Quentin and his friends have time, money and magic with all its limitless power. All except Alice become reckless in their pleasure-seeking habits; getting drunk, using drugs, clubbing, having meaningless sex and other such excesses. It is only after a long-lost fellow Brakesbillser shows up that the group finally decides to do something other than drown themselves in debauchery.

    Quentin and his friends finally embark on a true adventure and it is their journey through the heart of darkness that changes them all. They are all searching for happiness, worthiness and value in their lives. Unlike Harry Potter the Magicians has a much darker, almost satiric edginess. It breaks conventions in its grim but realistic portrayal of the way the magic world and the real world might interact if a magic world truly co-existed with ours. Quentin and his friends are the ‘heroes’ but they are obnoxious, arrogant, complex and absolutely flawed heroes. Unlikely and as unsuitable as they may seem, this tainted group of wizards, in spite of their imperfections, make this book noteworthy and interesting. I truly enjoyed this audiobook and I do recommend it...as long as the listener/reader is not fixed on a happily-ever-after ending.

    2 of 2 people found this review helpful
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