The Magicians – A Book Review

I decided to add the blog of the author of this book to my blog roll, because I find it fun to read. So I figured it would be good of me to write a short review of the book which led me to him. Though I will take this moment to give a shout out to TangleThis since she lent me the book, and got me interested in it. To write a concise review, I’m going to try and just discuss the novel, and allow readers, whoever they are, to go ahead and look up the plot on-line. Thus this review contains SPOILERS and you have been warned!

While this book has been crudely described as “Harry Potter for adults” I would argue it is a bit more than that. Though certainly there are some similarities. I have a big love of magic, and anything about magic school. So, the idea of a book about non-children attending a magic school immediately appealed to me. In addition I was told there was a “gay character” and so I was intrigued even more. Both of these hold true, and so it is easy for me to not have been disappointed.

What I think I enjoyed the most about this book, was that the characters felt like college students. College students experiment with sex, whine constantly, have big dramatic fights over trivial things, and so forth. While this list does not sound at all appetizing, it is honest, and Grossman doesn’t let the students circumvent these feelings/experiences just because they are studying magic. In fact, the fact they are magicians, and can have whatever they want, only compounds these issues for the characters. So I was really pleased to read the book, and experience the drunken mistakes that all college youths tend to make.

In particular, once Quentin and Alice join “The Physical Kids” I enjoyed the fact that they became a sort of family. In college, I too found a family like this. We threw parties, drank wine, cooked food, studied, cried, laughed, and danced together. Also like Quentin and Alice, my family was older than me, and when they graduated, I was left alone. Quentin had Alice, but I didn’t really have that, and I was envious of him for having her. Thankfully some people stayed close by, but it was never like the family of “the golden age” of college. I’ve always wanted to write about that experience, and I envied Grossman’s skill in being able to write it so beautifully. I wonder if he had a time like that.

When I tried to talk about this book with TangleThis, I kind of faltered. I focused a lot on the ending, because it was the freshest, but I’ve had some time now, and now I really mainly remember the beginning.

The second thing I really enjoyed about the book was the magic. Big shock I know. But I liked that it explained why magic could exist in our world. Namely being…it is really HARD to do! The way Grossman invented and described the spell casting process was fascinating to me, especially because I am writing about rehearsal, and both require repetition. So I hopefully will be able to take the lessons I gained from reading his book, and incorporate them as I continue to write my own.

My only real complaints would be the supporting cast. Despite their constant presence, some of the supporting cast, seem to never really become real. While I think this is somewhat honest, as you don’t always get to really know some people even if you hang out with them for a long time, I would have appreciated seeing characters at least hint that they had more going on. When he did, he did it very well. The scene where Eliot is engaged in some slave-master fantasy, is eye opening, thrilling, and very real. Even though it is really never brought up again, it lets you know there is a lot more to the character. Eliot is different behind closed doors, and I liked that we got to see it. I felt the rest of the supporting cast needed moments like this.

BBE didn’t love this book as much as me. He couldn’t get over that most of the characters were essentially terrible people. While this didn’t bother me, I could see that it might bother others. Still, it is a read I highly recommend!



  1. Tanglethis said,

    April 6, 2011 at 10:22 am

    All of the characters kind of ARE terrible people! Except Alice, who – except a tiny bit anger and acting out – is kind of inhumanly noble. And I kind of get not wanting to read about awful people, I was willing to roll with it in this book and actually wanted Alice to be a little MORE flawed, since she just stuck out like a sore thumb.

    And – like you – I wanted to know more about them. One of the reasons that I love Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell is that it contains so many asides, meanwhiles, and footnotes to give you all the backstory and background activity and history you could want to know. In The Magicians, it feels like all of this backstory is there, but closed off behind a door to keep the main narrative from getting too cluttery. That’s a legitimate editing decision, but I wish I could open those doors… and of course will end up buying the sequel, so I guess it’s a legitimate marketing decision too. ; )

  2. kyoske said,

    April 6, 2011 at 10:51 am

    TangleThis: Agreed. I mean Alice’s one “revenge screw” was kind of forced really, and it was the only “wrong” thing she did. I felt Alice could get away with her saintly demeanor because at first she was so quiet. So we saw her go from quiet to brazen. Still….when I, and other people, make that transition we often overshoot. We become confrontational, rude, and hyper defensive when our loudly expressed opinion is called out. This might have been nice to see with Alice.

    It is true, the more secrets we feel are there, the easier a sequel is to write. Though I don’t know if that is was inspired him to do so. I think that, much like life, we don’t really get to know the secrets that so many people have. Even people we see a lot. Also…it is possible that with some characters, as with some people, what you see is what you get.

    I’m interested to read his sequel!

  3. August 8, 2011 at 5:48 pm

    […] newest book “The Magician King” comes out. This book is a sequel to “The Magicians” which I reviewed some time ago. This time, I was fortunate enough to obtain an advanced copy, so today, while it is […]

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