Stop looking for the next secret door that is going to lead you to your real life. Stop waiting. This is it: there’s nothing else.
The Magicians by Lev Grossman is about a guy that gets accepted into a university for the training in the usage of real magic. It has been referred to by some people as a “grown up Harry Potter.”
I am not one of those people. This book ain’t like Harry Potter. Nevertheless, it’s still a solid-enough read, with plenty of interesting ideas for fantasy fans to mull over.
The main character sucks. He’s mopey, completely devoid of charm, and self-centered. He believes he’s better than everyone, despite not showing that’s the case at all. He acts totally entitled to happiness, but becomes instantly dissatisfied the moment he achieves or attains anything he’s working towards. His attitude towards women and relationships can be charitably described as “outdated.”
So viewing this story from that guy’s perspective is a pain.
The book provides a somewhat realistic portrayal of “young adult” struggles. I think thematically what the book is trying to portray is how a search for “happiness” is ultimately hollow, that college fails to prepare students for the “real world,” that entry into adulthood is jarring, that life and work without meaning is empty, and that people may fill that emptiness with drugs, alcohol, and other artificial mechanisms and become addicted to those things.
That’s my best guess at what the book is trying to do. Others have characterized it as a really bad portrayal of depression with terrible advice on how to handle that depression. That’s also a possibility. I personally didn’t view it as an illustration of clinical depression so much as a kind of spiritual ennui.
It’s hard to tell what’s really the point, though, because (1) this is the first book of a series and (2) the pacing is really damn weird. There’s just something…off…about it. Events occur, and themes and topics relating to those events are glanced at, then put down, never to be referred to again. It’s hard to explain without going into absurd levels of spoilers, but generally speaking, there are whole sections that should have a lot of detail that are glossed over. A major point in a character’s life might be in a single chapter. This book has enough plot to be expanded into three or four volumes. If it had been, maybe some of the transitions wouldn’t feel quite so…rushed.
The dialogue feels a little unnatural. For lack of a better term, it feels very WRITTEN, with language that doesn’t come from characters so much as by an author trying to be clever or profound but not quite hitting it.
The magic system is not thoroughly explained, certainly not to the level of detail that Rothfuss goes into in his The Kingkiller Chronicle. Still , the Magicians Trilogy is done and The Kingkiller Chronicle is not, so I’ll leave it up to others to decide who is the wiser author in that regard.
But those are the cons. The pros are that the magic is fun, the scary parts are scary, the supporting characters don’t suck nearly as much as the main guy, especially the females (even if they are viewed through the prism of the perspective of a narcissistic tool), the themes ARE things that should be written about and explored, and there are some really original and neato scenes and ideas in the book. I personally will probably not continue on with this series, but I am glad I read this. I MIGHT give the tv show a try one of these days.
My rating: 4 stars