Published on October 19th, 2012 | by Emma0
The Magicians is an absorbing fantasy novel by Lev Grossman.
The Magicians has been called the first of a high fantasy series for adults, but can quite easily be enjoyed by young adults and braver children too. There are some frankly terrifying moments, particularly when the big bad makes its first appearance, but overall, The Magicians is an exploration of what it means to be a young adult in a brand new world.
Quentin Coldwater is a bored, restless young man living in New York. He harbors a secret obsession with a series of fantasy novels set in Fillory, a magical land that is much more interesting to him than his final year in high school. But when Quentin finds himself inducted into Brakebills College, a school for budding modern magicians, he discovers that his favourite fiction isn’t quite as fictional as he thought. In fact, they are quite real.
Unfortunately, this isn’t the world Quentin expected either. Instead of the innocence and fun that fantasy novels often promise, Quentin finds the magical world just as dull and restless as New York.
Grossman’s writing style is a little difficult to get used to at first, and you do have to work to get through the first few chapters, but the rewards are great. It’s a darker, more satirical exploration of ours and Quentin’s fascination with the fantasy worlds. If you’re looking for perfect, likeable characters, this is not the book for you—none of the characters can get past their cynicism and boredom to see how lucky they are to be at Brakebills. Often Quentin asks himself why he isn’t happy. There are no answers in response. Every character in The Magicians has some moment where they have their expectations destroyed, or use their magic in irresponsible ways. That’s what makes The Magicians so interesting: that these characters are the perfect antithesis to the chosen-one story that marks so many stories.
Quentin’s emotional journey—his attempt to reach what he wants most and his failure to do so—is an element that most people can relate to, especially when that dream is embroiled in the fantasies of youth. Although Quentin’s sullenness and anti-social behaviour may turn some readers off, it is this that sets it apart from fantasy novels of the same vein. Because Quentin is underwhelmed by the repetitive nature of his magical studies, the world feels even more real to us. It feels like something you can touch. Like something that could exist if you squinted. So too are the descriptions and use of magic. Instead of waving wands and yelling an incantation, these magicians have to really work at their magic. It takes great effort, calculations, and a bit of luck to succeed in casting a single spell. Turning magic on its heel like this makes it an interesting and unique stance on a fantasy world.
Lev Grossman’s The Magician, was followed up by The Magician King in late 2011, and writes for Time magazine.