The Magicians – Lev Grossman

About the book

Quentin Coldwater is brillant but miserable. He’s a senior in high school, and a certifiable genius, but he’s still secretly obsessed with a series of fantasy novels he read as a kid, about the adventures of five children in a magical land called Fillory. Compared to that, anything in his real life just seems gray and colorless.

Everything changes when Quentin 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 practice of modern sorcery. He also discovers all the other things people learn in college: friendship, love, sex, booze, and boredom. But something is still missing. Magic doesn’t bring Quentin the happiness and adventure he though it would.

Then, after graduation, he and his friends make a stunning discovery: Fillory is real.

402 pages (hardcover)
Published on August 11, 2009
Author’s webpage

Click on the following link to purchase this book: The Magicians: A Novel, The Magicians: A Novel (Kindle)


The Magicians has been on my to-read list for quite some time. I’ve seen a ton of reviews for it and somehow that converted to, “This book is overhyped. Avoid at all costs.” Finally I decided to just get over myself and read the damn thing already. I’m glad I did. The Magicians amazed me. It took one chapter for me to realize that this book was unputdownable (is that a word?).

The thing that first got me was Grossman’s captivating prose. His words fly off the pages. He uses descriptions that bring the world, plot and characters to life in such a vivid, incredible way that the line between reader and character completely blurs. Suddenly, you aren’t (insert your name here) but you are Quentin. Grossman’s ability to completely absorb the reader with his dynamic, lyrical and flowing prose will surely astound readers.

The Magicians is an interesting fantasy. While it is fantasy, I could easily see this novel attracting readers who aren’t that familiar with speculative fiction. Grossman’s writing really absorbs the reader, and Quentin is a unique, fascinating character that dreams of magic and suddenly finds himself immersed in a world where magic is very real. It’s the plight of Quentin that really makes this book shine. He’s a brooding genius who is always looking for something more, which is something everyone can relate to on some level.

Quentin has a childhood obsession which is the novels of Fillory (think The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe). Grossman uses Fillory as a really interesting focus point for readers in the fact that he really explores how books can change, impact and influence people’s lives. For an obsessive book reader, I felt that Grossman’s use of the Fillory novels was a nice spice and allowed me to understand and sympathize with Quentin in a way I probably wouldn’t have been able to otherwise.

Part of The Magicians is Quentin’s captivating coming-of-age tale. The book begins with Quentin as a senior in high school and then quickly moves to the specialty magic college he attends in upstate New York. The college is reminiscent of Harry Potter. Rules like “lights out at 11:00” make me feel like the school is geared toward a younger group than the college aged variety, but otherwise the college is a wonderful and vibrant place to watch Quentin grow from a teenager into an adult.

About halfway through The Magicians, the book takes a turn from coming-of-age with some adult Harry Potter feel to a plot steeped in fantasy. I expected this part of the book to really captivate me because I really enjoy my fantasy. That being said, I was rather surprised when I found that this was the part of the book where I struggled the most. Part of what is so compelling with The Magicians is Quentin’s struggle to find his place in the world, and that really takes a back seat when the situation dramatically changes in the second half. In fact, I was rather disappointed with how Quentin seems to be a victim of his circumstance more than the architect of his fate that he was before, and I missed that dearly.

Secondly, I felt that the secondary world lacked a well thought out feel that the first half of the book contained and I had a harder time believing in the setting or feeling as emotionally involved in the characters or situations that were introduced in this portion of The Magicians. Furthermore, while I’m sure that many of the revelations that take place toward the end of the book were supposed to be surprising, they had a rather contrived feel and lacked the element of surprise I’m sure I was meant to feel.

That being said, The Magicians is one of those books that I devoured purely because of Grossman’s incredible talent with writing. His prose are pure artistry and I devoured every last word with a voracious hunger. The plot is compelling and the plight of Quentin is surprisingly human and emotionally compelling. Though I did struggle a bit more in the second half of the book, that really didn’t dramatically impact my overall enjoyment of this book. No matter what your flavor, The Magicians has the power to dazzle you.


4.5/5 stars

One Responses

  • From your description, the first part of the novel puts me in mind of Jo Walton’s “Among Others.” I enjoyed that one a lot, and that alone makes me think I might enjoy this novel. Especially because one of the things I liked most about “Among Others” was just how much books influenced the protagonist’s life and thought processes, and how it sought to strike a balance between the mundane and the fantastical. From this review, I really think I’m going to have to find myself a copy of “The Magicians,” to give it a try.

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