Book Review: The Magicians

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“The Magicians” is the first book in a trilogy written by Lev Grossman and published in 2009. Its sequel, “The Magican King,” received much acclaim, and the final installment, “The Magician’s Land,” was just published this year.

“The Magicians” follows the life of Quentin Coldwater, a brilliant high school student who has a good family, good friends, a promising future at an Ivy League college, and a life he sees as mundane and miserable. After a series of flukes and strange occurrences, Quentin’s world changes completely when he is invited to attend a school to learn about magic. All he needs to do is prove he is worthy by taking a magic test. The events that follow present Quentin with a world beyond his imagination, an adventure of his most amazing dreams, and a villain of his worst nightmares.

Upon the first glance at the back of the cover to read the synopsis of this book, many may choose to set it back on the shelf, claiming it sounds as though it would be rife with badly masked and poorly written “Harry Potter” fan fiction. However, readers who look beyond the cover are in for a rich treat. Lev Grossman’s story is original, far more complex, and much darker. If “Harry Potter” is a flagon of warm and cheerful butter-beer, then “The Magicians” would be a strong shot of whiskey. Combining rich metaphors, vivid imagery, and the language of a hilarious, uncensored college student, Grossman’s writing is most certainly made for intelligent, cynical, and open-minded new-adult readers.

The small, one-hundred-student magic college Quentin is invited to attend, Brakebills, additionally appears to be the equivalent of what would happen if Mines were a school for magic rather than engineering. Brakebills selects only incredibly intelligent students willing to challenge themselves to the extreme for a subject that is simultaneously demanding and worth it. Quentin realizes very quickly that there is always someone smarter than him or better than him at magic. Contrary to seemingly-easy wand-waving at Hogwarts, magic at Brakebills involves intense lectures on all kinds of languages, with heavy emphasis placed on painful hand movements and ancient intonations. It requires long hours of studying, and Brakebills is famous for difficult exams. Part of the reason this book will be so enjoyable to readers at Mines may stem from their ability to relate to Quentin’s hard journey through his college education.

Throughout the book, there is a running theme of searching to find something better instead of enjoying what there is and taking life at face value. Quentin has spent his whole life looking for a way not to be miserable and sees his opportunity to learn magic as a panacea to all of his problems. However, he quickly learns that there is a dark side to magic that will make him wonder whether it is better to stay with the misery he already knows or risk suffering more in his search for greener grass. Quentin is ultimately presented with the opportunity to travel to an alternate world through a portal concealed in a magic button. He makes the choice to risk it all for an imagined utopia he is incessantly searching for, and the novel does not hold back on the violent, terrible, and wonderful consequences for his decisions.

This book would make a great read for someone looking for a series to start; however, a word of caution must be issued: many may see Grossman’s style of not sugar-coating the horrors life can present as realistic and refreshing, but others may find some of the scenes in this story somewhat disturbing.

Regardless, it could be said that “The Magicians” presents a very true and relatable story about finding oneself in a world that has hope, beauty, fear, and death. It makes the profound statement that not everything has a happy ending, which is a very different representation than what has previously been seen in the magical fantasy genre. The book presents life lessons on actions and identity that seem extremely applicable to life as a new adult, and it does so by calling upon one’s understanding of pain, love, and humor. If, like Quentin, you wish to take a chance on the unknown in search of an escape from your world, perhaps pick up this book and try your hand at some magic.



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