meilufay’s #CBR4 review #42 The Magicians by Lev Grossman
This review breaks my heart because I wanted so badly to love this novel but didn’t. I’ve seen interviews with and read essays written by Lev Grossman and I think he seems like a totally delightful person; a person I would love to be friends with. Unfortunately, I don’t love his book. Does that mean we can’t be friends? Depends on Grossman’s personality I suppose. Definitely won’t help matters if I start out with, “I thought your book was disappointing” though, will it?
The basic premise of The Magicians is what if Narnia was real and Hogwarts was a college instead of a secondary school. Like Harry Potter, the protaganist of the Magicians, Quentin Coldwater, abruptly discovers that he’s been accepted into Brakebills, a college for magicians. Quentin is understandably excited to discover that not only is magic real, but he’s got talent with it. He hopes that the existence of magic proves that Fillory, the setting for a series of English children’s novels he’s obsessed with, is real. Everyone at Brakebills laughs at Quentin for believing that Fillory might be real. The Fillory books are just books.
Except the reader knows that that’s not true. We know that Quentin and his friends will end up in Fillory. And of course they do. Unfortunately, they don’t get there until two-thirds of the way through the book. And very few important things happen until the characters get to Fillory. We go to classes with Quentin, we see him learn stuff about magic, he falls in love with his first girlfriend, he makes friends (or frenemies)… All stuff that your average WB show manages to convey in the pilot episode of one of their shows. Sometimes it happens before the first act break. While I’m sure that it was sheer delight for Lev Grossman to create the world of Brakebills, to explore the magic system he’s created and to play musical sexual chairs with his main group of characters (the degree to which Grossman dwells on sex, drugs and alcohol reminds me a bit of Bret Easton Ellis’ novels or Donna Tartt’s Secret History but it also, again, reminds me of the slightly less literary Gossip Girl); it wasn’t really much fun for me to read about all this stuff. Honestly, this book did not *really* get even interesting to me until the last thirty pages. Up until those last thirty pages, I was FORCING myself to keep going forward. Now, those last thirty pages were interesting enough that I’m considering reading the second novel in the series. My justification is that now that the exposition is done, the story can get started. But I’m not exactly looking forward to reading book two, The Magician King. I’m certainly not going to pay for it. If it’s not on the shelves of my local library no biggie.
I had a very similar issue to Patrick Rothfuss’s first novel, The Name of the Wind. I find Rothfuss delightful and I wanted so badly to love that book (which my friends and favorite nerdy bloggers assured me I would love) and I didn’t. I found it boring, just as I found The Magicians boring and for many of the same reasons. I’d rather experience the tip of the iceberg of the world the writer has created. I don’t need to go to college with the main character or learn in exquisite detail how magic works. I don’t need to experience him falling in love with his first girlfriend and drinking with friends. I went to college, I know what all those activities are like. Granted, I didn’t learn magic in college but, seriously, the systematic accumulation of knowledge isn’t all that different regardless of the topic. I don’t *mind* if any of these things are explored, as long as they are done within the setting of a story that is moving forward. I just didn’t feel like that was happening here.
Sorry, Lev Grossman (and Patrick Rothfuss). If it’s any consolation, my first novel will probably sell fewer copies and get less glowing reviews than yours did.