The Magicians by Lev Grossman


Well-Known Member
Jul 31, 2013
Just finished this - I know some chronners have read it but doesn't seem to have a thread so interested to hear more about what others thought of it.

I really didn't know what to make of it for a long while. It's starts off as a portal novel with the lead character, Quentin, travelling from Brooklyn to magic college. So kind of Harry Potter although not really (it's a book packed full of references to other books, notably Narnia, which I enjoyed on the whole). I liked this part of the book, though it felt very leisurely. Then there was an interlude in Manhattan and then the fantasy quest bit proper began... It's cleverly done, certainly unpredictable, and in a sense very original (or is it just a mash-up of lots of other books?) But at the end of the day, I'm still not sure it worked. The cast of characters is a very privileged, highly educated, somewhat decadent bunch of youths who are frequently wondering what the point of everything is and doing a lot of partying (at one point it reminded me of The Secret History, whose characters I dislike) and the fantasy “quest” was almost a game to them, a distraction from boredom. I suspect many people read fantasy precisely because they want to get away from books about amoral, over-privileged types and their First World navel-gazing (of which there are plenty in “literary” fiction) and to read about worlds where things really do matter, so I don't know that the Magicians really works as a “fantasy” novel in this respect. Furthermore the constant irony, asides etc however entertaining inevitably undermine your emotional involvement in what you're reading. Or do they? It is impressive – inventive and ambitious - but I'm not sure if I'll read the sequels.

(There's also a weird thing that the first word of the novel - Quentin - is misspelt, at least on the kindle version. I spent a long time thinking there must be some kind of significance to this but so, I think it's actually just a typo. Which is odd.)

I also just read John Buchan's Gap in the Curtain, which bizarrely also turns out to be a sci-fi/speculative, starting with a disenchanted, privileged upperclass all other respects, though, it's very different and I'd recommend it, for those who like that kind of thing.
The speculative bit is basically used as a frame for a story (or rather four stories) some of which are about political/economic life in the 20s/30s. A kind of alternate history, with made-up politicians, but pretty insightful into that era. If you're interested in the Depression – I am – very interesting, and entertaining anyhow - a bit like reading a good mystery novel.

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