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The Magicians: A Novel by Lev Grossman

The Magicians: A Novel (2009)

by Lev Grossman

Other authors: See the other authors section.

Series: The Magicians (1)

MembersReviewsPopularityAverage ratingConversations / Mentions
6,805534827 (3.45)1 / 424
  1. 201
    The Secret History by Donna Tartt (middled, kraaivrouw, Euryale)
    Euryale: No magic, but I thought the tone and setting were otherwise very similar.
  2. 225
    The Chronicles of Narnia by C. S. Lewis (Jannes)
    Jannes: The Magicians wolud not exist if it wasn't for the Narnia books, and is really a kind of loving deconstruction of Lewis' work. What could be better than giving the books that inspired it a try?
  3. 131
    Fragile Things: Short Fictions and Wonders by Neil Gaiman (catfantastic)
    catfantastic: Read the short story "The Problem of Susan" included in this collection.
  4. 157
    Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows by J. K. Rowling (sonyagreen)
    sonyagreen: It's like HP goes to college, complete with drinking and sex.
  5. 158
    Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell: A Novel by Susanna Clarke (Anonymous user)
    Anonymous user: Magic is real in a world we recognize--Napoleonic England and contemporary New York.
  6. 40
    The Library at Mount Char by Scott Hawkins (TFleet)
    TFleet: Both novels are centered in the modern real world, but with a set of young adults who have magical powers. The novels are different takes on the question, "What would the modern real world be like if there were magic?"
  7. 40
    The Chronicles of Chrestomanci: Charmed Life / The Lives of Christopher Chant by Diana Wynne Jones (Anonymous user)
  8. 41
    The Book of Lost Things: A Novel by John Connolly (rnmcusic)
  9. 30
    Little, Big by John Crowley (rarm)
    rarm: Fairy tale worlds that reveal a hidden darkness.
  10. 20
    Every Heart a Doorway by Seanan McGuire (Cecrow)
  11. 20
    Shadowland by Peter Straub (Scottneumann)
  12. 75
    Harry Potter Box Set (Books 1-7) by J. K. Rowling (elleeldritch)
    elleeldritch: An adult version of Harry Potter (and Narnia), albeit with a different (but still interesting) magic scheme.
  13. 21
    How to Live Safely in a Science Fictional Universe by Charles Yu (lobotomy42)
    lobotomy42: Similar combination of a genre setting, an unlikeable protagonist, and an inward-looking plot.
  14. 10
    The Silver Nutmeg: The Story of Anna Lavinia and Toby by Palmer Brown (tetrachromat)
    tetrachromat: Both describe the reflections of certain pools of water as windows onto other realities. The Silver Nutmeg, however, is much less dark and aimed at younger readers.
  15. 10
    Dreams and Shadows by C. Robert Cargill (Scottneumann)
  16. 10
    Bedtime Story by Robert J. Wiersema (ShelfMonkey)
  17. 65
    Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone by J. K. Rowling (kaledrina)
    kaledrina: Older YAs and above. Really for late teens and adults. Potter meets Narnia meet sex drugs and rock n roll.
  18. 10
    The Alchemyst: The Secrets of the Immortal Nicholas Flamel by Michael Scott (Jess1106)
  19. 21
    The Once and Future King by T. H. White (wandering_star)
    wandering_star: I thought of making this recommendation when reading the magical education section of The Magicians, which reminded me of the first book of The Once and Future King. But the wider idea - that magical powers can't stop us from making stupid human mistakes - is also relevant to both books.… (more)
  20. 10
    Phantastes by George MacDonald (charlie68)
    charlie68: Similar themes.

(see all 31 recommendations)


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English (532)  Swedish (1)  German (1)  French (1)  All languages (535)
Showing 1-5 of 532 (next | show all)
The Magicians book one is a very enjoyable read. I had a slow time getting into it, but once I figured it out I was off and running. The concept is familiar, almost overly familiar, a blend of Harry Potter and The Chronicles of Narnia. What Grossman manages to do best is his use of precise language and humor, sarcasm and an ability to embrace the dark side of human nature. However, I don't quite believe that he intends all of his characters to be "horrible" as they are often interpreted in reviews. I think there's a deeper satire going on here that is yet to be understood by the reader.

My only qualm is the book's (and Grossman's) treatment of women characters. Grossman seems to tiptoe around the fact that he doesn't quite understand how to write women, so he uses third person perspective and a character that is quite like a Fitzgerald observer as the MC. But he should just stick to what he's good at and stop trying to cram problematic female characters into his books.

An enjoyable read that should be taken at face value. ( )
  hlwalrath | Aug 21, 2018 |
Quentin is an insufferable, thoughtless, and selfish main character. He had so many chances to redeem himself, but was unable to get his head out of his own ass that he couldn't even become the next super-villain which is where I though he was going after with the Questing Beast.

He (though most of the other characters were horrible as well) ruined what could otherwise have been a passable book with an interesting take on what happens when "children" find a magical world and the realities that actually take place rather then the slightly sugar-coated world of Narnia and Hogwarts. Or even taking it into a Dorian Grey route of magical debauchery and misanthropy, but no.

Just unsatisfying. ( )
  Bodagirl | Jul 10, 2018 |
This was my second read of The Magicians, and I approached it with a little trepidation, wondering if I would hold it in the same esteem I did on my first read several years ago. If anything, it has risen in my estimation. It’s not only a thoughtful deconstruction of escapist fantasy, it’s also one of the best depictions of depression I’ve ever read. Let’s tackle those points in order.

I think most people, even those who didn’t go on to love fantasy as adults, grew up on some form of escapist fantasy. For my generation it was Narnia, and I remember disregarding Lewis’s advice and hopping into the wardrobe as a small child just to make sure it wasn’t back there. For the younger generation it’s Harry Potter, probably hanging onto lingering hopes of a late acceptance to Hogwarts. There were plenty of less memorable entries in this field too, and they all had one thing in common: A child who doesn’t quite fit the world around them in the way that most intelligent, bookish children don’t quite fit the world around them, who in suddenly finding that they are the chosen one who gets to rule the magical land or go to the magical school, also gets their problems solved. Magic brings them friends who really get them. Magic somewhat makes up for the loss of a family or the existence of a family who doesn’t really love or understand them by bringing them a community that embraces who they truly are. Magic makes them fit without having to change, at least not in ways that require them to have to take the real world as it is and find a way to belong happily in it anyway.

Quentin Coldwater, our unlikeable protagonist, gets that chosen one fantasy in his acceptance to Brakebills and the discovery that the magic he’s always longed for is real. And it doesn’t fix things. Magic, it turns out, is like anything else in life: You won’t get joy out of it if you don’t put some in, if you don’t tough out the hard and tiring and boring parts for love of the discipline, and it isn’t going to make the problems that stemmed from you in the first place simply disappear. People are still people, and ones with magic aren’t any more accepting or loving or tolerant or capable of filling the holes in your soul. Life is still a big confusing mess, and you still have to decide what your purpose is and make it happen, not just sit back and wait for magic to hand one to you.

And it can be hard to be in Quentin’s head as he struggles with this, and on the cusp of realisation, often seizes onto the next thing that he thinks will hand him a miraculous bundle of happiness: Alice! Fillory! But in the midst of all the fantasy trappings, that’s what makes this book so damn real, because that’s how depression works. In fiction it often doesn’t, because people want to see characters grow along a steady trajectory, so they hit rock bottom, and then get a little better, and a little better, until eventually they’re standing in a good place. But in life? You get a little better, and then a little better, and then you self-sabotage all of your good work and end up in a worse place than you were to start with, and then you get a lot better, but only because you’ve grabbed onto a relationship/job/other temporary fix that won’t actually yield long-term improvement, and then you re-acquaint yourself with rock bottom, and then you get a little better…

And as someone approaching their 20th year of that journey with depression, I can say that yes, it can make us pretty damn unlikeable at times -- particularly when you’re still a kid like Quentin and trying to figure out who you even are with this crushing weight on top of you. In addition, one of the ways that Quentin copes is by overachieving, which is not my particular thing but is something I recognise from friends’ experiences, and so he’s one of the smartest people in his mundane school and is preparing for an Ivy League education when Brakebills derails him. Suddenly he has to get used to the fact that he is, if anything, below-average in the community he’s now a part of -- he came very close to not even getting into Brakebills, and it’s repeatedly shown how much some of his peers like Alice and Penny outclass him. It’s probably not dissimilar from the experiences of a lot of kids who are the best in their provincial areas and have to adapt to being merely part of the crowd at an Ivy, but when academic accomplishment has been pretty much your sole coping strategy for depression, it’s going to make the kind of impact we see here.

Despite the fact that viewing it through Quentin’s eyes can be a dampener, there’s still something bewitching about the Brakebills experience. While Quentin is in his final year and getting impatient to stretch his wings, I already felt strangely mournful for the place. It’s no Hogwarts, but you know that one day Q will regret not making the most of the years he had there, although maybe he can still grow enough as a person to appreciate all the subtle joys that were strung throughout this confusing and tumultuous time of his life.

That’s not to say that Quentin doesn’t experience any growth, although it’s not until the very end that he finally breaks through a barrier of realisation without backsliding. But there’s much better payoff in that regard to be found in the next two volumes of the trilogy, as well as in highlighting how privileged Quentin’s experience was compared to that of characters like Julia, whom we see just a little of in The Magicians. It might seem odd to call such a depressed character privileged, but many of us enjoy privileges in society (like that of being white, or male, or Christian, or whatever our society has deemed ‘default’) that don’t necessarily go hand in hand with a happy existence, and the fact that Quentin has so little self-awareness of all the things he’s benefitted from is a justifiable source of anger at him -- one in which Alice speaks for the reader as she finally snaps at him for not really looking at his perfect life, even as she understands better than most, after seeing her family collapse, how someone like Quentin can get lost inside themselves.

By now we’re on the third season of the television show, which didn’t exist when I last read this book, and it’s a very good adaptation which has adjusted some of my perspectives on the novels. Firstly, the show does a better job of emphasising that Quentin’s emotional state is an actual medical condition, and medical conditions require treatment. It also struck me how very, very white The Magicians is this time around -- there isn’t a single person of colour among the novel’s main characters, and the show has done such a brilliant job of diversifying the cast with its excellent choices of actors for Dean Fogg, Penny, Julia, and Janet (renamed Margo in the show) that I found myself substituting them in my mind’s eye, despite Grossman’s descriptions, to make my mental images less painfully uniform. Finally, the Beast is so very much more intimidating on the show, both visually (obscuring your face with a cloud of moths has a bit more impact than hiding it behind a tree branch) and in action, that the book version felt a little anticlimactic on rereading.

This isn’t a comfortable book. It isn’t a good light read with which to while away a cold afternoon. It’s biting and it’s sad and it’s worthy of, almost necessitates, deep thought. It’s also likely to be a difficult read for anyone who needs likeable characters to connect to, because it’s going to take until the subsequent books in the trilogy before Quentin and most of his crew can be described that way (and before we are truly introduced to Julia, who is everything Quentin’s not). But it’s a marvellous piece of fiction, and an all-time favourite that I will come back to again and again. Most of the people I know who’ve read it respond like tasters of Marmite -- there is either love or hate, with few reports of indifference. I think if you are interested not just in fantasy, but in taking fantasy apart and seeing why it makes us tick, you may have room to love it.

Review from Bookette.net ( )
1 vote Snumpus | Jul 4, 2018 |
It's about time I read this book.

To begin, I tend not to enjoy fantasy as much as other genres. Somewhere around the tail end of middle school I got thoroughly burned out on fantasy. As a kid, I read every fantasy book I could possibly get my hands on, and somewhere along the line I discovered what [a:Joseph Campbell|20105|Joseph Campbell|https://images.gr-assets.com/authors/1429114498p2/20105.jpg] refers to as The Hero's Journey. I grew very tired of formulaic fantasy. I never stopped reading fantasy, as my Goodreads account shows, but I grew a bit jaded and weary in regards to the genre.

Then I met my good friend Mars who laughed when I sheepishly admitted that I felt fantasy was formulaic.

While the genre is bogged down by formulaic fantasy, there are exceptions to the rule. [b:Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell|14201|Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell|Susanna Clarke|https://images.gr-assets.com/books/1357027589s/14201.jpg|3921305], [b:The Lies of Locke Lamora|127455|The Lies of Locke Lamora (Gentleman Bastard, #1)|Scott Lynch|https://images.gr-assets.com/books/1386924569s/127455.jpg|2116675], [b:The Marbury Lens|7995207|The Marbury Lens (The Marbury Lens, #1)|Andrew Smith|https://images.gr-assets.com/books/1437941266s/7995207.jpg|12492437], [b:The Wooden Sea|366086|The Wooden Sea (Crane's View, #3)|Jonathan Carroll|https://images.gr-assets.com/books/1388953411s/366086.jpg|356124], and [b:American Gods|4407|American Gods (American Gods, #1)|Neil Gaiman|https://images.gr-assets.com/books/1258417001s/4407.jpg|1970226] are just a few scant examples of the diversity that exists within the fantasy genre. [b:The Magicians|6101718|The Magicians (The Magicians #1)|Lev Grossman|https://images.gr-assets.com/books/1313772941s/6101718.jpg|6278977] is luckily enough, another fine example.

[a:Lev Grossman|142270|Lev Grossman|https://images.gr-assets.com/authors/1386343699p2/142270.jpg] builds his own mythology within [b:The Magicians|6101718|The Magicians (The Magicians #1)|Lev Grossman|https://images.gr-assets.com/books/1313772941s/6101718.jpg|6278977]. While it isn't as diverse as the world built within [b:Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell|14201|Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell|Susanna Clarke|https://images.gr-assets.com/books/1357027589s/14201.jpg|3921305], it doesn't need to be. He stands on the back of authors such as [a:C.S. Lewis|1069006|C.S. Lewis|https://images.gr-assets.com/authors/1367519078p2/1069006.jpg] and [a:J.K. Rowling|1077326|J.K. Rowling|https://images.gr-assets.com/authors/1415945171p2/1077326.jpg] to create a world that is both familiar and foreign. The book doesn't depend upon the Fillory mythos as much as it does the fact that fantasy books tend towards the formulaic. He wants the reader to recognize the stagnant nature of fantasy, alongside the very reason that readers crave the genre in the first place.

Quentin Coldwater is an obnoxious protagonist. He has all the faults of Holden Caulfield in [b:The Catcher in the Rye|5107|The Catcher in the Rye|J.D. Salinger|https://images.gr-assets.com/books/1398034300s/5107.jpg|3036731] and then some, and very few redeeming qualities. Luckily, Quentin is the sort of obnoxious that one is likely to come across. He doesn't make the book unbearable because he is so familiar, just like the story of the English children making their way to a magical kingdom. There is a certain reprieve in the familiar, and while all the characters change and develop around him, Quentin stoutly refuses to grow. Quentin's abilities change, but his mindset stoutly refuses to. Like Jack Shepherd in LOST, this is believable, if maddening.

Fillory is a delight, as is the way magic is done. The villains are a terrifying reminder of just how far one might go to escape themselves. The book is a startling treatise on escapism, even as the reader may use the book for just that. It is meta, without being obnoxiously so. A friend of mine stated that [a:Lev Grossman|142270|Lev Grossman|https://images.gr-assets.com/authors/1386343699p2/142270.jpg] delivered the book she had been waiting for ever since reading Harry Potter, Earthsea, and the like... and personally, I have to agree. The sex, drugs, booze, and swearing are all surprisingly believable. The ennui is a natural extension of the abilities that the characters have.

[b:The Magicians|6101718|The Magicians (The Magicians #1)|Lev Grossman|https://images.gr-assets.com/books/1313772941s/6101718.jpg|6278977] is a brilliant book, and one that I would highly recommend, as my friend Dave has, to Anyone, Anyone, Anyone. Yes, it is just that good. ( )
1 vote Lepophagus | Jun 14, 2018 |
I just reread this book, which I first read (and really loved) not too long after it came out. When I read it the first time, I loved it. This time...? Not as much. I find Quentin tiresome, Janet and Penny loathsome, and pretty much everyone else but Alice flat. Alice was lovely, so her fate was particularly hard to take. The references to Narnia were too derivative and actually indicated that the author didn't particularly care for the series. I intended to reread the sequel, The Magician King, which I found hard to read, but now I'm not sure I want to. ...though I remember that Julia was a total badass in that book, so maybe I will. ( )
  cindiann | May 3, 2018 |
Showing 1-5 of 532 (next | show all)
”Magikerna” marknadsförs som ”Harry Potter för vuxna”, men i själva verket är det en ovanligt vacker sorgesång över hur det är att lämna barndomen. Det var faktiskt bättre förr, när man kunde uppslukas helt av leken.
added by Jannes | editDagens nyheter, Lotta Olsson (Feb 4, 2013)
This isn't just an exercise in exploring what we love about fantasy and the lies we tell ourselves about it -- it's a shit-kicking, gripping, tightly plotted novel that makes you want to take the afternoon off work to finish it.
added by lampbane | editBoing Boing, Cory Doctorow (Oct 20, 2009)
It’s the original magic — storytelling — that occasionally trips Grossman up. Though the plot turns new tricks by the chapter, the characters have a fixed, “Not Another Teen Movie” quality. There’s the punk, the aesthete, the party girl, the fat slacker, the soon-to-be-hot nerd, the shy, angry, yet inexplicably irresistible narrator. Believable characters form the foundation for flights of fantasy. Before Grossman can make us care about, say, the multiverse, we need to intuit more about Quentin’s interior universe.
Somewhat familiar, albeit entertaining... Grossman's writing is intelligent, but don't give this one to the kids—it's a dark tale that suggests our childhood fantasies are no fun after all.
added by Shortride | editPeople, Sue Corbett (Aug 31, 2009)
Grossman has written both an adult coming-of-age tale—rife with vivid scenes of sex, drugs, and heartbreak—and a whimsical yarn about forest creatures. The subjects aren’t mutually exclusive, and yet when stirred together so haphazardly, the effect is jarring. More damaging still is the plot, which takes about 150 pages to gain any steam, surges dramatically in the book’s final third, and then peters out with a couple chapters left to go.
added by Shortride | editBookforum, Michael Shaer (Aug 14, 2009)

» Add other authors (6 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Lev Grossmanprimary authorall editionscalculated
Bramhall, MarkNarratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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I'll break my staff,
Bury it certain fathoms in the earth,
And deeper than did ever plummet sound
I'll drown my book.

--William Shakespeare, The Tempest
For Lily
First words
Quentin did a magic trick. Nobody noticed.
That guy was a mystery wrapped in an enigma and crudely stapled to a ticking fucking time bomb. He was either going to hit somebody or start a blog.
Space was full of angry little particles.
He had no interest in TV anymore - it looked like an electronic puppet show to him, an artificial version of an imitation world that meant nothing to him anyway. Real life - or was it a fantasy life? whichever one Brakebills was - that was what mattered, and that was happening somewhere else.
No one would come right out and say it, but the worldwide magical ecology was suffering from a serious imbalance: too many magicians, not enough monsters.
"Never cook with a wine you wouldn't drink," he said. "Though I guess that presupposes that there is a wine I wouldn't drink."
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(Click to show. Warning: May contain spoilers.)
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Amazon.com Amazon.com Review (ISBN 0670020559, Hardcover)

Amazon Best of the Month, August 2009: Mixing the magic of beloved children's fantasy classics (from Narnia and Oz to Harry Potter and Earthsea) with the sex, excess, angst, and anticlimax of life in college and beyond, Lev Grossman's Magicians reimagines modern-day fantasy for grownups. Quentin Coldwater lives in a state of perpetual melancholy, privately obsessed with his childhood books about the enchanted land of Fillory. When he’s admitted to the surreptitious Brakebills Academy for an education in magic, Quentin finds mastering spells is tedious (and love is even more fraught). He also discovers his power has thrilling potential--though it's unclear what he should do with it once he's moved with his new magician cohorts to New York City. Then they discover the magical land of Fillory is real and launch an expedition to use their powers to set things right in the kingdom--which, naturally, turns out to be a much murkier proposition than expected. The Magicians breathes life into a cast of characters you want to know--if the people you want to know are charismatic, brilliant, complex, flawed magicians--and does what Quentin claims books never really manage to do: "get you out, really out, of where you were and into somewhere better. " Or if not better, at least a heck of a lot more interesting. --Mari Malcolm

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:09:45 -0400)

(see all 5 descriptions)

High school senior Quentin Coldwater's real world never quite measures up to Fillory, the enchanted land in his favorite fantasy novels, and even an education at the mysterious Brakebills College for Magical Pedagogy leaves him without purpose, but when he discovers a way into Fillory, his life becomes a dangerous adventure.… (more)

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