In which I discover that even magic is not enough to satisfy disaffected youth, apparently
Title: The Magicians
Author: Lev Grossman
What it’s about: I’m going to be honest. My expectations for this book were high. It was praised by reviewers, described as Harry Potter meets The Secret History. Since those are two of my favorite books, I was understandably excited. Unfortunately, I was let down. Here’s the deal: Quentin Coldwater is an overachiever who has spent his whole life reading about a magical land called Fillory (a thinly veiled Narnia substitute) when he’s suddenly and unexpectedly drafted to a college for magic hidden in upstate New York. Ok, so far we got the Harry Potter theme, albeit a grown-up version as Quentin’s college life includes considerably more sex, drugs, and alcohol than I remember at Hogwarts. Still, I’m cool with this premise. I like it.
Here’s where it broke down for me. After graduation, Quentin and his group of self-absorbed, hedonistic friends find an apartment in Manhattan. How do five wizards unleashed on New York City spend all their time? Basically feeling sorry for themselves. Quentin is depressed. All the time. He and his friends try to decide “what to do with themselves.” They’re bored. They just spent five years gaining otherworldly powers and now they’re bored. It’s the most frustrating thing ever. Eventually they find an adventure for themselves, but things go pretty badly. I won’t give it away.
I mean, I get what Grossman was trying to do. Really, I get it. I just don’t think he accomplished it. Is the book about self-entitled youth or about magic? Ideally, it would be about both, how even magic can’t make you happy if you’re not first comfortable with yourself and have a sense of confidence and purpose. Honestly, I thought that was what the book was working up to and I was ready to go there with Grossman. But it never happened.
Look, I’m not saying it was all bad. It wasn’t. It was a fun ride. I read the book in about three days flat. It’s fast-paced and there’s tons of action. It’s darkly humorous and all that. But I left the book with a lot of questions and a sense that I’d missed something along the way.
Would I recommend? Maybe. I know I had some problems with the book, but I also know there are people who would love this. If you answer yes to the following questions, you’ll probably like it. Would you like to read a more adult Harry Potter? Do you dislike books with predictable plots and endings that tie everything up in a neat bow? Do you personally feel dissatisfied with your life and wish for more adventure? Well, give this a shot then. And let me know if you disagree with me.