Tuesday, August 25, 2015

Review of The Magicians by Lev Grossman

This is a first! I don't think I've posted a negative review on Small Hour Books before, but here it is.  I read The Magicians while moving, when I stayed with family for a week and had down time.  I'd read nothing but terrific reviews, was glad I had a copy I could borrow, and dug right in.  Unfortunately, it did not live up to any expectations.

Basic plot: [from goodreads] Like everyone else, precocious high school senior Quentin Coldwater assumes that magic isn't real, until he finds himself admitted to a very secretive and exclusive college of magic in upstate New York. There he indulges in joys of college-friendship, love, sex, and booze- and receives a rigorous education in modern sorcery. But magic doesn't bring the happiness and adventure Quentin thought it would. After graduation, he and his friends stumble upon a secret that sets them on a remarkable journey that may just fulfill Quentin's yearning. But their journey turns out to be darker and more dangerous than they'd imagined.

On a scale from 1 to Cripplingly Depressing: Dim and grim for many (many) chapters.  Similar to re-living high school.

Memories from reading: I read this one a lot at the kitchen table.

Teeth-gnashing: One of the most confusing and frustrating things about this book was that there seemed to be almost no plot.  I'm a plot-driven reader (especially with fiction and fantasy books), and this one did not pick up until over 240 pages in.

There were long, long passages about very smart teenagers and their magical school, but for some reason, the descriptions seemed to only scrape the surface.  I was disappointed by the lack of detail.  It made magic sound dull, not exciting, and most certainly not unique - which would have been fine if that was where the author was going thematically, but the book seemed stuck somehow.  Teachers were described briefly, but given great weight in certain parts (and I had to flip back because...who were they again?) and the five years of school dragged.  By the time they graduated, I didn't want to "hang out" with them anymore, so to speak.  The conversations they were having were cliché, dull, and ones I'd heard (and lived through) before.

I thought that maybe the book would have been better if it had been split up.  More attention could have been given to the school experience and developing the characters, and then another book could have moved on to graduation and adventures.


By the time they were having any adventures - in the last hundred pages of the book - the most interesting character was killed off, sacrificing herself for her cheating, dull, insipid boyfriend, also the protagonist of the novel.  At that point, I thought: You GOTTA be kidding me, Mr. Grossman.  I slogged through this book to get HERE?

It seemed to borrow a lot from many popular children's fantasy novels (The Chronicles of Narnia and Harry Potter especially) but in my view failed where they succeeded.  While magic does not need to be all lightness and fun, there should be some depth to it.

Weapon of Choice: Paperback, borrowed while visiting family.

Other titles by this author:
The Magician King
The Magician's Land

Have you read The Magicians or other books in the series? What did you think?

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