This week I’m reading The Magicians by Lev Grossman. Before I go on, let me state that I only read books I like. If after a few chapters I’m bored, I won’t finish the book. Given that, the books I discuss on this blog, are books I like. (Even if it doesn’t always seem like it.)
I was intrigued when I heard The Magicians described as a Harry Potter for adults—and I would certainly agree, it’s not for children. What’s my take on it? Well…
In The Magicians, Quentin, the main character, is invited to attend Breakbills, a college for magicians. At Breakbills, Quentin, along with other extremely bright students, learn that magic is more about hard work and technique, than talent. Although, only that spark (that unknown quality) allows them to become real magicians. Like other good fictional protagonists, Harry Potter among them, Quentin doesn’t fit in. At least, he feels like he doesn’t. He’s fixated with a Narnia-like series of books about a magical place called Fillory. If only, Quentin thinks, he could live in Fillory, he would be happy. So, when he’s invited to attend Breakbills, it seems like the next best thing. A college for magicians. Real magicians—not your David Copperfield variety. And if only that was the answer. But it isn’t. Grossman does his best to take the magic out of magic (at least, that was my impression). Breakbills is hard work, and in his sophomore year when Quentin joins a group of kids called the Physicals, it also becomes a place of hard liquor, drugs and sex. Your typical college adventure. Somehow, Quentin and the rest of the Physicals, even though they seem to be wasted ninety percent of the time, manage to graduate from Breakbills. They head off into adulthood, back into the real world and with Quentin still managing to hang on to the hope that if only he could live in Fillory, he would be happy—since Breakbills didn’t do it for him. Well, low and behold, Fillory is a real and Quentin and his still wasted pals manage to find their way in. Quentin is in Fillory, he’s even given a quest, but he still isn’t happy.
And that’s as far as I’ve gotten. I’m 75 pages from the end, give or take a few (I’m reading this on my iPad, so pages remaining depends on font size), and Quentin is still a sniveling, whiney, unlikable lead character. Which is what his girlfriend, Alice (the least often inebriated Physical kid in the group) finally points out. Basically, she says (and I’m not quoting), I love you, Quentin, but stop being such a boob! The world’s not waiting to hand you happiness on a silver platter. You’re in Fillory; if you can’t be happy now, you never will be. And, if I’m not mistaken, that’s the moral of Lev Grossman’s story. Don’t spend your life thinking you’d be happy if only… Rather, be happy right now (or at least, choose not to be so miserable). I couldn’t agree more!
That said, I don’t think I’ve ever both liked and hated a book so much. I don’t like any of the characters, but I keep reading because I want to see them redeemed. Or, from my antiquated point of view—grow up!
As I said, I’m not finished with the book. Quentin still has 75 pages to redeem himself. I’m not sure he’ll be able to do it. Frankly, I don’t see what Alice see’s in him. I kind of wish Grossman had given us a few glimpses of what Quentin could be. Maybe he did. Maybe I missed them.
One more thing, there is a creature called The Beast in the story. The Beast pops us somewhere midway through Quentin’s college days. The Beast is supposed to be important and scary. Well, so far he’s not that scary and with only 75 more pages to go, having shown up only once, he doesn’t seem to be that important either. We’ll see.
Next week I may tell you what I think of the ending. For now, what’s next on my bookshelf? Abarat, Absolute Midnight, by Clive Barker. This is book three in the series and I absolutely loved—no, adored—the first two. In fact, Clive Barker’s Abarat could be my favorite fantasy series of all time. Looking forward to book three.
- Even Stevens’s CBR-III review #34: The Magicians by Lev Grossman (cannonballread3.wordpress.com)
- ‘The Magician King:’ Ready or not, young magicians grow up (seattletimes.nwsource.com)
- Interview: NYT Bestseller Lev Grossman on “The Magician King” (omnivoracious.com)