Quentin Coldwater is a genius on his way to an assured Ivy League education, but he’s depressed with the way that his life is going. He distracts himself from his misery by dreaming of Fillory, a land that exists in a popular series of children’s novels that he adored as a child and still reads often, wishing that he could add a bit of fantasy to his humdrum life. Well, he’s about to get his wish. On his way from a Yale interview, Quentin stumbles into a magically hidden part of upstate New York, and he is immediately taken off to the school on the grounds for a rigorous examination. Upon passing he learns that the school is a magical college named Brakebills where he will spend the next four years of his life learning magic, making friends, enemies, and lovers, and trying to figure out what exactly he wants to do with his life.
Fast forward to Quentin’s graduation. He’s successfully passed his years at Brakebills, and is invited to move in with friends in New York City. Soon after, an old classmate shows up unannounced and surprises them with a fantastic secret: Fillory is real, and they’re all going.
The Magicians really is two separate stories, the first being Quentin’s journey to learn magic at Brakebills College, and the second story being after Quentin finishes Brakebills and his subsequent journey into Fillory with his friends. They are two completely different novels, but I was glad that they were released as a single volume.
There were times while reading when I had to put The Magicians down and absorb what had just happened in the novel. In particular, there was a scene where, after transforming themselves into foxes as part of a lesson, the students screw like, well… foxes. Normally this is something that I would find unneeded, as I’m sure you’re thinking upon reading this, but these scenes added an element to the story that’s not normally seen in modern fantasy, and I felt that it was refreshing. There were also some scenes that I felt were needlessly bloody, such as an entire page describing a man getting his hands chewed off, as well as some scenes that I felt could have used a bit more in the way of back story and explanation. Overall, though, I was pleased with how well they were woven together with an almost magical quality that left me dazed.
Characters that you want to smack
The characters in this novel are extraordinarily fleshed out. They all have their own story and are presented in a way that makes them believable. However, I want to smack the lot of them. They’re thrust into this world of magic and wonder that most people spend most of their time dreaming about, and they take it for granted, not giving it a second thought. There’s no moment where they simply relish in their limitless possibilities; instead, they quickly lapse straight into a deep depression due to their lack of individuality and the rigorous coursework that is presented to them. They’re all, without a single exception, complete douchebags and I want to smack them all upside the head and tell them to open their eyes and see the fact that they’re freaking magicians. I’m not complaining too much, however, because the way that they were presented made them real characters instead of typical fantasy tropes, but I still think that a little bit of joy before boarding the depression train would have done the novel good.
A new take on Narnia – er… Fillory
Did you ever wonder what the Narnia books would have been like if, instead of preteen boys and girls venturing to save an endangered magical land, the land was visited by 23-year-old self-absorbed magicians looking for a fun time? No? Well, I can’t say I did either, but the prospect is certainly engaging, isn’t it? And that’s what this book does, taking you through emotional twists and turns of adolescence – kicking you in the face, and then kissing it better, only to punch you right in the balls with the next page.
When it became apparent that Fillory is basically Narnia with a new name, I was wary and a little disappointed – but it turns out that while Fillory does share similarities with Narnia, there is a lot of fantastic original material as well – most of which are complete spoilers, so I won’t mention them in this review. There are some very obvious references to Harry Potter and a few other well-known fantasy tropes, but Grossman seems to insert these intentionally and exploits them to the max, which actually made for a pretty enjoyable read.
Why should you read this book?
I really cannot recommend this book enough as both an urban and epic fantasy, the first half being urban and the second being a mix of the two. Normally I wouldn’t think that this would work very well, but in this case it’s pulled off excellently. The Magicians is full of magical wit and wonder.