The Magicians by Lev Grossman
Published by Viking on 2009
Genres: Fiction, Fantasy
Buy on Amazon
Quentin Coldwater is brilliant but miserable. A high school math genius, he's secretly fascinated with a series of children's fantasy novels set in a magical land called Fillory, and real life is disappointing by comparison. When Quentin is unexpectedly admitted to an elite, secret college of magic, it looks like his wildest dreams have come true. But his newfound powers lead him down a rabbit hole of hedonism and disillusionment, and ultimately to the dark secret behind the story of Fillory. The land of his childhood fantasies turns out to be much darker and more dangerous than he ever could have imagined. . . .
I know this is a thing us bibliophiles really shouldn’t say EVER, but: I think the TV show is way better.
Don’t hurt me.
When I started watching the SYFY version of The Magicians and actually really liked it, I made a quick mental note to go back and read this book first before I got too far into it. Because the book can usually be relied on to be better, I wanted to experience it in written format first. In this case, though, the book makes the story more boring, the characters downright insufferable, and it contains less of an emotional pull.
I’ve heard others pulling up comparisons to Harry Potter and The Chronicles of Narnia, and I can see the obvious influence of both – a boarding school for magicians and doorways to a secret world – but The Magicians lacks the magical spark of either.
In fact, it only barely feels like a fantasy novel, reminding me more of Tartt’s The Secret History with a touch of magic (something that may or may not sound appealing). Actually, that description fits so right that I wonder if I stole it from someone else… Anyway, this is about a bunch of smart beyond belief characters who walk around being self-obsessed and annoying.
“Are you smart?”
There was no non-embarrassing answer to this.
“Don’t worry about it, everybody here is. If they even brought you in for the Exam you were the smartest person in your school, teachers included.”
It feels like it’s about pretentious people being pretentious. Don’t get me wrong, I like smart characters. I like unlikable characters, even. Characters who do stupid things for stupid reasons can quickly irk me, as can self-sacrificing heroes who fail to show that people are complex, difficult and selfish at times.
But I enjoy it when characters actually show me intellectual acuity and emotional maturity. I’m not so convinced when page one introduces us to our characters who are pretty much the best at everything, have crazy GPAs, wealthy families, secure futures and still manage to feel so damn sorry for themselves. Let’s all quote Milton and celebrate the misery of our perfect lives!
In the TV show, the characters are not quite so annoying. Their intellect is quirky and charming, and their dissatisfaction with life more convincing. And – maybe because it is the nature of a TV show – it was nice to actually be shown something, rather than simply told it.
The book is so self aware. So very sure of its own superiority as a “literary” version of a magic school. I feel like we’re rarely shown anything, just constantly told by the author how special Fillory is and how sophisticated the characters are. We are told that Quentin’s intellect is virtually beyond compare, and yet he’s a blubbering idiot for a lot of the novel (plus childish and lacking in any growth).
Truth be told – it’s boring. I’m not sure how it’s possible to make a story that borrows so heavily from two of the most exciting series out there into something this tedious, but here you are! An emotionally-detached third-person narrative that instructs us in the story and characters, instead of ever weaving a compelling tale.
I’ll stick to the TV show.
I'm Emily May - a twenty-something year old book blogger from the North of England. Currently going wherever the wind or the storyline takes me. Find me on Goodreads
Latest posts by Emily May (see all)