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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 (3251 )
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  •  
    Kyle Seattle, WA 04-30-11
    Kyle 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.

    69 of 71 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Charles TULSA, OK, United States 09-14-14
    Charles TULSA, OK, United States 09-14-14
    HELPFUL VOTES
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    "Surprising"

    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.

    15 of 15 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.

    33 of 35 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
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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.

    42 of 45 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Paul United States 09-22-14
    Paul United States 09-22-14 Member Since 2010

    I listen to a bit of everything. Mostly Fantasy and paranormal romance with my wife. Along with mysteries/thrillers, even some sci-fi.

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    "Wish fullfillment"

    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.



    4 of 4 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 21 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.

    42 of 51 people found this review helpful
  •  
    paul 05-31-14
    paul 05-31-14 Member Since 2012
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    "Not your ordinary book"

    The Magicians isn't about friendship Harry Potter thrives on, or the beauty of another world that Narnia is about. But it is commonly falsely compared the two. The Magicians is not for those looking for the two, it borrows some ideas from the two, but is nothing like either.

    The Magicians is in the best way I can describe a book that understands what it is straight from the beginning. Though not a happy uplifting book, its a great view of how magic would be used in the real world.

    The only way I can tell someone if they would like this book or not is if they understand this is about a group of unhappy smart people who discover they can use magic and that the main character is someone who is self destructive and would do anything in his search for happiness.

    The Magicians is Beautiful, not flawless. It's not for everyone and it won't be a story that I would recommend to most people, but to those who are looking for a great story and aren't afraid of imperfect characters and concepts that aren't completely original then The Magicians is territory that must be explored.

    2 of 2 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Andrew R. Sonntag 03-16-14 Member Since 2013

    Andrew

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    "My new favorite series and narrator"
    Would you recommend this audiobook to a friend? If so, why?

    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.


    What did you like best about this story?

    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.


    Which character – as performed by Mark Bramhall – was your favorite?

    Bramhall is perfect. It is hard to pick a favorite, but his Eliot was particularly good.


    Was there a moment in the book that particularly moved you?

    It is impossible to describe why without spoilers, but the final act is incredibly moving and satisfying.


    Any additional comments?

    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.

    2 of 2 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Amy Cambridge, MA, United States 02-09-12
    Amy Cambridge, MA, United States 02-09-12 Member Since 2009
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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.

    2 of 2 people found this review helpful
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