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  • Writer's pictureAshley Mongrain

The Magicians


Rating - ⭐⭐


"Quentin Coldwater is brilliant but miserable. A senior in high school, he’s still secretly preoccupied with a series of fantasy novels he read as a child, set in a magical land called Fillory. Imagine his surprise when he 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 craft of modern sorcery.


He also discovers all the other things people learn in college: friendship, love, sex, booze, and boredom. Something is missing, though. Magic doesn’t bring Quentin the happiness and adventure he dreamed it would. After graduation he and his friends make 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. His childhood dream becomes a nightmare with a shocking truth at its heart."


 

The Magicians is the first novel in the adult fantasy series of the same name by Lev Grossman.


This was just not it for me. I went into this wanting a story full of magic set at a magical school. What I got instead was a story following the romantic issues of a completely unlikable main character with a poorly written plot, characters, and world-building. Get ready for a bit of a rant with some minor spoilers that will be warned ahead of time if you don't want to be spoiled.


Writing


I listened to this on audiobook which was probably the only way I was going to get through this book seeing as by the end I was listening to this on 3x the speed. I didn't have any major issues with the writing or the narrating, but I did have some issues with the language used in this.


There would be certain lines spoken where I had to go back in order to make sure that that is what was actually said. Lines like 'they colonized the upstairs of the cottage', 'dressed like an Iroquois warrior' and 'rocked his body back and forth semi-autistically'. The wording just rubbed me the wrong way. There is of course also the issue of the sexualized way all of the female characters are described.


Plot

As I said in the introduction, I was expecting this book to be full of magical potential that unfortunately got wasted. There were two aspects to the plot: Brakebills the magical school and Fillory, a magical land from a book series that turns out to be real. Neither of these plotlines was executed well. Let's start with Brakebills, shall we?

A magical school has a lot of potential to be interesting, however, the entirety of our main characters' five years of schooling are glossed over. I wanted to see Quentin develop over time as he learns more about magic there, but instead, all we got were small snippets of things that weren't very interesting. What the book decided was the most important area to focus on was Quentin's romantic journey as he lusts over pretty much every single female character (I will talk more about this later on).


As school comes to an end, we move on to the second plotline surrounding the magical world of Fillory. This was more or less Narnia but way less engaging and interesting because the characters you follow went into the land uninvited in search of glory. It rubbed me the wrong way that they intentionally were willing to make sacrifices to become kings and queens of a land that they don't belong to. A character nailed it on the head by saying that Fillory was not some amusement park where you come to play dress-up because that is exactly what it felt like. It didn't seem like they were there because they were meant to and instead were there to conquer it for fun.

I think that the book should have picked one of the plotlines and ran with it because the result of having both lead to a weak story on both parts. As this is a series, it would have made sense to take the time to fully establish the magical school and show Quentin's progress as a magician. Then in the next book, they could have moved onto Fillory and their journey there.


World-Building

As I have already alluded to, the world-building in this story was pretty weak. There was not enough time spent in order to fully establish Brakebills and Fillory was more or less a copy of Narnia. As the first book in a series, this does a poor job at initially setting up the world as well. The first book is crucial to introduce and establish the setting for the rest of the series, but this failed in doing so and left much to be desired.

For a book that follows magicians, we don't get a lot of information about the different kinds of magic used in this. We know that there are different specialties that the students are put into (Quentin's is considered to be physical magic), but we don't get much detail beyond that. If you want to make a magical world interesting, make sure to go in-depth on the magic system.


Characters


And now we finally arrive at the biggest letdown of the entire book, the characters (or one character in particular). We follow Quentin, who is an extremely unlikable character. In the synopsis, he is described as being brilliant but miserable. What I got out of his character was that his one personality trait was that he was horny. That's his entire character summed into one word.

When we get introduced to his character, in the beginning, we learn that he likes his friend Julia who is currently dating a guy named James. Quentin could not handle the fact that his feelings were not reciprocated and imagined James dying so that Julia would run into his arms instead...not a great character introduction, and from then on it only gets worse. At school, he develops a crush on his teacher who he described as being distractedly curvy and having 'very groupable breasts'. It is at this point where the red flags really started to go off.

The cherry on top of the cake, however, is when he falls for fellow magician Alice. As he starts to develop feelings for her and his feelings for Julia dwindle, he remarked that it is a good thing that he is moving on because Julia had her chance to be with him. Julia was under no obligation to reciprocate your feelings and really, it was not her loss at all as we will see when it comes to Quentin and Alice's relationship.


Minor Spoils Start Here

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Their relationship starts after they have sex together as foxes. Yes, you hear that right, I had to listen to the narrator describe Beastiality in more detail than I would have ever wanted. A bad start that ends up with a bad ending, as Quentin ultimately ends up cheating on her (possibly multiple times). Alice is understandably upset and ends up sleeping with someone else, and Quentin was having none of it. He ends up throwing the equivalent of a temper tantrum and blows up on Alice while ignoring the fact that he was the one who cheated.

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Minor Spoilers End Here

His character just made me uncomfortable because he was bringing up so many red flags. It was one thing to constantly sexualize every single woman he came into contact with, but the way he dealt with his relationship with Alice was unhealthy and I had no sympathy for him whatsoever. At one point he even said that he could smell Alice like a vampire can smell blood which was frankly creepy and not romantic.


Moving on to the rest of the prominent characters, some had the potential to be interesting, but they, unfortunately, were either not fleshed out enough, or were used to advance the plot. Alice could have been a very strong character but I felt like her character ended up being watered down in order to make her Quentin's love interest. The same goes for Janet, who was only in there to create tension between Quentin and Alice. Out of all the characters, I liked Eliot the most but he was not focused on as much as I would have liked.


Concluding Thoughts


This could have been something good, but with the combination of weak development and an entirely unlikable main character, all potential pretty much went down the drain. It is safe to say that I have intentions of picking up the rest of the series in order to avoid any further disappointment.


If you are enticed by the idea of a magical school, I would suggest that you direct your interest somewhere else because this will only disappoint you. I tried to watch the TV show to see if that was at least a little bit better but didn't have much success there either. I would have been way better of just re-reading The Chronicles of Narnia.

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