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The Magicians: A Novel by Lev Grossman

The Magicians: A Novel (original 2009; edition 2009)

by Lev Grossman

MembersReviewsPopularityAverage ratingConversations / Mentions
5,475472793 (3.45)1 / 391
Title:The Magicians: A Novel
Authors:Lev Grossman
Info:Viking Adult (2009), Edition: 1, Hardcover, 416 pages
Collections:Your library

Work details

The Magicians by Lev Grossman (2009)

  1. 171
    The Secret History by Donna Tartt (middled, kraaivrouw, Euryale)
    Euryale: No magic, but I thought the tone and setting were otherwise very similar.
  2. 195
    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. 121
    Fragile Things: Short Fictions and Wonders by Neil Gaiman (catfantastic)
    catfantastic: Read the short story "The Problem of Susan" included in this collection.
  4. 147
    Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell by Susanna Clarke (Anonymous user)
    Anonymous user: Magic is real in a world we recognize--Napoleonic England and contemporary New York.
  5. 147
    Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows by J. K. Rowling (sonyagreen)
    sonyagreen: It's like HP goes to college, complete with drinking and sex.
  6. 40
    The Chronicles of Chrestomanci, Volume I by Diana Wynne Jones (Anonymous user)
  7. 30
    Little, Big by John Crowley (rarm)
    rarm: Fairy tale worlds that reveal a hidden darkness.
  8. 31
    The Book of Lost Things by John Connolly (rnmcusic)
  9. 20
    Shadowland by Peter Straub (Scottneumann)
  10. 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.
  11. 10
    Bedtime Story by Robert J. Wiersema (ShelfMonkey)
  12. 10
    The Vanishers by Heidi Julavits (BeckyJG)
  13. 10
    The Alchemyst by Michael Scott (Jess1106)
  14. 65
    Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone (Book 1) 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.
  15. 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.
  16. 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.
  17. 10
    Dreams and Shadows by C. Robert Cargill (Scottneumann)
  18. 32
    Among Others by Jo Walton (Jannes)
    Jannes: Both are fantasy or fantasy-sih books about fantasy readers and how the stories you read hape you and affect your sense of the world.
  19. 00
    A Wizard of Earthsea by Ursula K. Le Guin (aulsmith)
    aulsmith: Two different schools of magic
  20. 00
    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)

(see all 27 recommendations)


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English (452)  Swedish (1)  French (1)  All languages (454)
Showing 1-5 of 452 (next | show all)
Quentin Coldwater is at the precipice that has life has been leading to. He's incredibly smart and about to have his interview for entrance into an Ivy League school. It's what is expected and yet after all of these years of hard work, it feels somehow anticlimactic. Quentin is then offered the opportunity he never thought existed - a chance to attend the exclusive Brakebills - a school for modern magicians. Brakebills represents everything he's always secretly wanted an escape from the mundane. For years Quentin has been re-reading fantasy novels about the magical world Fillory and while it may all be a story, Brakebills offers him the chance to closest to the the dream world he's always dreamed of visiting.

The Magicians sets itself up to be a cross between The Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe and Harry Potter. It has young adults going to a magical academy and then traveling to a fantastical world in search of a quest. The problem with Grossman's work is that it has none of the delight of either series and is filled with characters who are self involved, who seem to delight in wallowing and are incredibly selfish. Grossman tries to to give the impression that his characters are sophisticated yet they wade through life with such self generated disillusionment it makes it impossible to relate to them, let alone like them. In 420 pages, not one of Grossman's characters is even remotely likable. It's not necessary for characters to be likely for to tell a good story but the reader should be able to relate to them.

Grossman should have called this book White people's problems, or even Western problems. Quentin is filled with melancholy and despair. From the outside, everything in Quentin's life is perfect. He has class privilege, two parents who love him, and even acceptance to the exclusive Brakebills. No matter what opportunity is offered to Quentin, he seems determined to never be content and at times seems miserable for the sake of being miserable. He is absolutely insufferable and as the narrator of the story, made if feel like wading through mud. I found that I could not feel empathy for Quentin's depression because at the end of the day, Quentin is callous and pretentiousness. Quentin's proverbial position in life is that the glass is half empty and this wars against his hidden feelings of hope. In fact, I would go as far as to say that Grossman doesn't really have a typical antagonist in this book despite the fact that Martin (one of the infamous Chatwin siblings) has become a monster. The antagonist is Quentin's battle between his melancholy and hope that around the corner he will find something shiny to at least divert him from his feelings of sadness.

There's absolutely no character progression in The Magicians. When we first meet Quentin, he is 17 years old and by the time the book ends, he is almost in his mid twenties. During that time period, Quentin has been trained as a magician, left his life with his parents behind, travelled to a magical world, defeated the equivalent of a magical beast, watches as his first lover died while he lay helpless and finally engaged on a quest to find a magical beast. That's a lot to happen to one person and yet Quentin reads exactly the same on the first page as he does the last page. Having lived through even one of the aforementioned incidents should have been enough for some growth, let alone all of them.

Every woman Quentin meets he assigns value based on whether he wants to fuck her or not. Women aren't really people to him but exist only to the degree that they excite his lust. Repeatedly when Quentin is in a close proximity to a woman, he has to caution himself not to look at her breasts.
December slid by on silent runners, in a sleepless dream of constant toil. The work had lost all connection to whatever goal it was supposed to be accomplishing. Even Quentin’s sessions with Professor Sunderland lost their spark. He caught himself staring bleakly at the radiant upper slopes of her achingly full and gropable breasts when he knew he should be devoting himself to far more pressing technical issues like correct thumb position (pg 69-70)
Quentin's longest relationship in The Magicians is with Alice, who is a shy but extremely talented magician. He refuses to acknowledge his dependency on her throughout their relationship at Brakebills and when they leave, he treats her like an anchor who constantly spoils his fun. Alice quickly moves from being his girlfriend to a mother figure because she doesn't think that drinking all night, each and every night, is a legitimate way for an adult to pass time. Quentin doesn't even pause to think about the fact that Alice actually forestalled her education in order to be with him during his stage of excessive over indulgence. He is a child while she stands as a woman. When he ultimately cheats on Alice with Janet, it is only then that he begins to even contemplate what Alice means to him. Alice does not forgive and instead has sex with Penny, a fellow magician and Quentin actually has the nerve to get angry. When Quentin cheated he blamed Janet and the booze, refusing to take any kind of personal responsibility and when Janet slept with Penny, rather than acknowledging his role in that interaction, all he can think about his hurt and his pain. It sets Alice up to be a toy that Quentin now only wants because another kid has started playing with it. In the end, Alice sacrifices herself to save Quentin's life thus giving purpose to his melancholy at last.

While Alice may be Quentin's longest lasting love interest she isn't his only one. No one forced Quentin into Janet's bed and yet he positions her as this whore who had the nerve to tempt him away from his beloved Alice. Janet becomes the Jezebel to Alice's Madonna. Each smile Janet makes from this point on Quentin believes is filled with such a wickedness that it induces hatred in him. Where Alice is quiet and reserved, Janet is loud, shrill and a "howling cunt".

Quentin's first love Julia doesn't fare any better. The moment Quentin gets into Brakebills, he pretty much forgets Julia's existence. He sees this as punishment for Julia having the nerve to choose someone else as her boyfriend. Even after Julia tracks him down and she's clearly in some serious trouble because of her experimentation with magic, Quentin barely gives her a second thought. He clearly doesn't value their friendship but given that Quentin doesn't value women, this isn't surprising.

Read More ( )
1 vote FangsfortheFantasy | May 15, 2016 |
Very long review, posted here

http://www.librarything.com/topic/210747#5574373 ( )
  leahbird | May 8, 2016 |
If you got Bret Easton Ellis to write Harry Potter - this might be the result: A bunch of strung-out, clinically depressed magicians. The diffident, morose voice would have been better suited to a first person narration. After the initial setup, nothing much happens until the very end of the story. You never learn much about the magical education they receive at Brakebills Academy, or the rules of how magic works in their world, instead the story focuses on the characters’ self-obsessions and sex lives (and their attempts to destroy their livers)

Every so often something interesting happens, and you think the story is finally getting somewhere… but it never does. If I had been reading this instead of listening to the audio book, I never would have finished. The sendup of Narnia at the end is hilarious, but I’m not sure if this was the author’s intention. The main character *does* finally grow and realize that his depression was the problem all along, but it’s too little too late. I doubt many readers will slog through hundreds of pages to finally see Fillory.
( )
2 vote memccauley6 | May 3, 2016 |
I am agog, but I am saving the review for when I finish The Magician's Land. To be continued.. ( )
  BookFrivolity | Apr 23, 2016 |
This novel tells the story of a high school student who is under-performing in every aspect of his life. However, he is suddenly spirited away from that life and enrolled in a school for magic. At this school, Quentin, the main character, is thrown in with a band of other misfits as they try to navigate their journey to adulthood, while dealing with interpersonal issues, learning magic, and discovering that a place previously thought to be fictitious, is actually real. A practical joke on Quentin's part creates some real drama for the cast of characters, as the unleash "The Beast" into the world. While curricular connections for this novel are few, I can see mature young adult readers having an interest in it. Readers who previously liked Harry Potter will probably like this book, although it has mature content.
  jstrecker | Apr 18, 2016 |
Showing 1-5 of 452 (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 editionsconfirmed
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)

As a senior in high school Quentin Coldwater became preoccupied with a series of fantasy novels he read as a child, set in a magical land called Fillory. After graduating from college and being admitted into a highly exclusive, secret society of magic in upstate New York, he makes 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 for his childhood dream becomes a nightmare with a shocking truth at its heart.… (more)

(summary from another edition)

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3 editions of this book were published by Audible.com.

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An edition of this book was published by Plume.

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