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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
5,824474726 (3.45)1 / 403
Title:The Magicians: A Novel
Authors:Lev Grossman
Info:Plume (2009), Edition: 1, Kindle Edition, 416 pages
Collections:Read but unowned
Tags:fantasy, modernist, dark

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. 205
    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. 157
    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.
  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. 31
    The Book of Lost Things: A Novel by John Connolly (rnmcusic)
  8. 20
    Shadowland by Peter Straub (Scottneumann)
  9. 20
    Little, Big by John Crowley (rarm)
    rarm: Fairy tale worlds that reveal a hidden darkness.
  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
    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.
  12. 10
    Bedtime Story by Robert J. Wiersema (ShelfMonkey)
  13. 10
    Dreams and Shadows by C. Robert Cargill (Scottneumann)
  14. 10
    The Alchemyst: The Secrets of the Immortal Nicholas Flamel by Michael Scott (Jess1106)
  15. 10
    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)
  16. 10
    The Vanishers by Heidi Julavits (BeckyJG)
  17. 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.
  18. 10
    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?"
  19. 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.
  20. 00
    Mr. Penumbra's 24-Hour Bookstore by Robin Sloan (aethercowboy)
    aethercowboy: Both books deal with a fictional fantasy series that holds a lot of significance to the story.

(see all 30 recommendations)


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English (472)  Swedish (1)  French (1)  English (474)
Showing 1-5 of 472 (next | show all)
I can't finish this book. I only have 100 pages to go and I couldn't care less about any of the characters or what happens to them. There were a few parts where I thought something interesting might be starting to happen and then......nothing. The characters are annoying, childish and uninteresting. The first 200+ pages were borIng. I just can't do it. ( )
  cal8769 | Dec 1, 2016 |
This review originally appeared at RevolutionSF.com:

Quentin Coldwater is in many ways a typical teen: bright, slightly nerdy, cynical, yet with a secret belief that there's a place where things are perfect, if only you could find it. For Quentin, this perfect place is Fillory, the setting for a series of kids books with Christian overtones (think Narnia). Although slightly ashamed of it, he can't seem to let go of the comfort he's found in the books since he was a child. He wishes for a place like Fillory where things matter, and everything works out in the end. Thus he is overjoyed when he is recruited to a secret college called Brakebills and told that magic is real, and he has a talent for it.

But superficial similarities aside, Grossman isn't interested in re-telling Harry Potter. He quickly informs us that magic is neither fun nor easy. Certainly, there's wonder to be had as the students grow in skill, but there's also quite a grind to get there. Further, despite the power involved in marshalling terrific forces to do your bidding, magic is no guarantee of happiness. In fact, it's not even a guarantee of a job after graduation:

“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

Quentin and his friends, looking for meaning, end up spiralling into hedonism, , and meaningless and Quentin destroys the one relationship that actually means something to him. At his lowest point, someone from the past returns with news: Fillory is real, and he can take them there. The friends make their way there looking for adventure and reward, but instead they find dissension, deceit, and apathy:

“Our people have been slaughtering and betraying one
another for centuries, Quentin,”she said. “How can
you be any worse? The rule of the Chatwins is the
last peaceful time anyone can remember. You don't
know anyone here; you have no history, no scores to
settle. You belong to no faction.”She stared fixedly
at the road ahead of them, biting off her words. The
bitterness in her tone was . “It makes
perfect political sense. We have reached the point
where ignorance and neglect are the best we can hope
for in a ruler.”

The final battle goes horribly wrong and Quentin is left broken and disillusioned. He undertakes a final quest and the only reward he seeks is to go home, where he retreats into mundanity, giving up on power and on dreams. But as Grossman knows, dreams have a funny way of taking on a life of their own, and as long as we have a little wonder buried deep within us, the magic can never really die.

There is so much to love about this book. Grossman has a deceptively easy style that is capable of humor and darkness and surprising beauty. The time at Brakebills is filled with wonder. You can understand Quentin's excitement even as you begin to see the in this perfect world. By deliberately calling up echoes of C.S. Lewis, J.K. Rowling, and even Tolkien, Grossman is able to create a sense of familiarity which he then twists to his own ends.

He clearly loves his characters, but Grossman doesn't make it easy for them. Time after time he makes them look beyond the easy answers and realize that happiness and meaning, like magic, have to be worked for and earned. He forces them to grow up, and it's to his credit that some of them manage to do so without completely losing the wonder of it all. For me, this is the heart of the book: as you grow up, you find that things are not the way you thought they were. Being a grown-up has its advantages, but it doesn't magically solve all of your problems. If you want your life to have meaning, then you have to work at it and make it happen. That said, it doesn't hurt to hold on to some of that childhood magic.

The Magicians is an amazing book: funny, tragic, and magical, and those of you who've managed to hang on to your own childhood magic will find ample reward within. ( )
  Mrs_McGreevy | Nov 17, 2016 |
So this book started off really slow. It took 250 pages until the main story/plot/conflict really got started. The last 150 pages though, I read in one fell swoop, staying up til 2:30am. Of course, there were hints and little bits of the plot from the beginning, but the first half of the book was pretty much just the main character, Quentin, living his mundane life. And how you could make going to a secret college of magic mundane, I have no idea, but Quentin sure figured it out. This may have been intentional. Quentin, like any college student, is unsatisfied with how awesome his life is, and no matter what childhood dreams come true, he knows this isn't what he's *meant* to be doing with his life. Where are the quests and epic battles between good and evil promised by his favorite childhood books (which bear a striking resemblance to the Chronicles of Narnia)?

The first half of the book follows Quentin as he goes through a secret institution of (magical) higher education. The entrance exam is brutal and the coursework more so. But somehow, despite all his insecurities, Quentin excels and even makes a few friends, including Alice, who becomes his girlfriend. But despite all his successes, he feels like something is missing. When is his life going to get started? He graduated already. Is this all there is? Shouldn't he be off *doing* something with his life? When he was a kid they said he could be anything, and here he is, a magician! But why does is feel like no matter what he does, it makes no difference?

The narrator keeps referring to the students as "teenagers", even after most are at least 21, and Quentin is at least 20. As a 22 year old trying to pretend I'm a grownup, this annoyed me. There is a big difference between an 18 year old freshman and a 21 year old senior. But later in the book, after stuff happens, Quentin is suddenly referred to as a "man". I found the change abrupt in the text, but I think that's a problem with English not having a good word between "teenager" and "adult". And that's really what this book does: it tells the story of Quentin's transition from teenager to adult. It's a coming of age story, but for us modern Harry-Potter-raised "adults". It seems like we keep pushing the "adult" line further and further back. What do we do when 18 doesn't really mean grownup? What do we do when college-educated "adults" don't get steady jobs? How and when can we become adults? At least, that's the allegory I read into this. You can just read it as a Narnia/Harry Potter daydream/fanfiction for grownups if you want. ( )
1 vote jlharmon | Nov 3, 2016 |
A lot of references to other works, like the Chronicles of Narnia, George Macdonald and other works, most of which can been seen in member recommendations, which I savoured over for the first half of the book. The latter half is spoiled by the addition of foul-mouthed brats posing as adults, but still ends up being pretty good. Although it's on to the second in the series to see if it gets better. ( )
  charlie68 | Oct 27, 2016 |
3.5 rounded up. I took some time to think about how I wanted to rate it. In the beginning, I was really annoyed with Quentin and I feel like the author fast-forwarded a lot of character and world building. I did end up liking the dark turn it took. ( )
  Sareene | Oct 22, 2016 |
Showing 1-5 of 472 (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)

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)

» see all 7 descriptions

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