The magicians by Lev Grossman

1.5 starsDisclaimers: This book is the first in a series of three books, all of which are out.  Additionally, this book is being made into a TV show, with the first season already completed at the time of posting.  This book is an adult book with sex in it, nothing is talked about in any great detail besides mentions of cocks existing and a few sentences about who is sleeping with who.

Result: 1.5 stars.  While I didn’t outright hate this book, there were so. many. issues that this book could not even manage to make it to 2 full stars.  I would recommend this book for people that are interested in the source material for the show or really want to read a sub-par book about magic, magic schools, or escapist fantasy.  


Quentin Coldwater discovers his deepest wish is real, that magic exists, after being accepted to an exclusive school for magicians.   This book is a Narnia-Harry Potter mash-up for grown ups.  


Have you ever thought, “you know what would make Catcher in the Rye better? If Holden Caulfield was super smart. And could do magic” then this is the book for you!

When I started this book I was hoping for a Spencer Reid type of quarky genius main character. Instead I got an insufferable Holden Caulfield. I don’t dislike asshole/insufferable characters, even when they are main characters but Quentin did not have an interesting backstory to hold onto that makes sense or gives him any interest. Overall this book is the definition of “interesting concept but book fell flat”. So flat I’m surprised it both exists and had enough attention to be made into a TV show. Speaking of, I’m only about 5 minutes into the first episode and already like it better? I’ll see whether that continues or not.

On top of the fact this book is plain boring and non of the characters, even the side characters which I’m typically partial to, were interesting in any way, this book was blatantly racist, sexist and ablest. It contains a number of slurs, gross stereotypes and half-hidden misogyny. But don’t worry, there are a few gay characters and characters of different races (mentioned in passing) thrown in to appease people. The book is clearly written by a male author: the male-female ratio is crap, females are described pretty or not and their age, never their personality (unlike the men), only female characters die, females are there to be ‘won’, there are blatant double standards since a female is ‘despoiled’ when she has an affair, but Quentin isn’t even though he cheated first, etc, etc. Then there is this gem, found in the first 30 pages:

“Quentin wished she wasn’t attractive. Unpretty woman were so much easier to deal with in some ways – you didn’t have to face the pain of their probable unattainability.”

Going into the mechanics of the book, the magic system is never fully described and I think even if it was it wouldn’t make any more sense then it already does, which is not at all. Additionally, the first few pages (even the first chapter, really) that are supposed to pull you in and force you to read the book are boring, old and tired. Quentin hates his life, he pines over a girl. Yawn. It’s boring and it’s lazy.

There is no real storyline/plot until the last 20-30% of the book or so which that in itself is not a problem, one of my favourite authors has penned several books like this. The issue is, Grossman does not have the writing capabilities to pull this off. He never learned proper passing. This book meanders along for hundreds of pages, often skipping forward in time dramatically then jumping back to fill in some things that were skipped in almost a bullet point type manner. It never really describes things or have a concrete timeline of what is going on, instead wonders through the author’s thoughts never really finishing where it started going. Things that I would love a whole chapter on are skipped over in a page to make way for endless descriptions of….not a whole hell of a lot. The entire novel was ‘this happened, then this happened, then this…’ Part of the reason I didn’t care about any of the characters in this book (really really rare for me) is because the story is told us instead of showing us why we should care. For example, we are constantly told Quentin is smart but never was it shown that he was. Instead he constantly did stupid things like normal magic tricks when asked to do magic instead of actual magic. In a magic school. For actual magic.

The back third of the book did pick up, if ever so slightly, once the author got to where he wanted to go. It made the first part of the book seem even more like a rough bullet point roadmap you had to slog through to get to the end battle. Once I got to that battle, though, I still was not particularly interested in what the outcome was. Then, for the finishing touch on the book once it had ended, it carried on for another 3/4 chapters of angst before mercifully finally ending without a whole lot being added in those extra chapter.

Last thoughts:

Despite all of this, I didn’t outright hate the book so I can’t really give it 1 star, but it doesn’t really deserve 2 stars for all it’s problems. Also as a side note, what is with all the J names?


2 thoughts on “The magicians by Lev Grossman

  1. I read this book years ago and loved it. I wasn’t reading that much at the time. I reread it a few months ago, and while I still like it, I do see all the problems others have mentioned now. So I completely get your review of this book and why didn’t like this. I tried reading the next book but I couldn’t get passed the first 100 pages or so. I might give it another try next year or so. I am curious about the tv show though.


    • Part of me thinks that I was too hard on this book in that review, but at the same time I stand by everything that I said there and in the end the book did not wow me and I don’t think I will ever pick up the next one. I will, however, be finishing up the half-written analysis of the Tv show and how it compares to the books that is currently in my drafts section. Look out for that to come out in the next week or two. Sneak peak on my opinion is that some of the things they do or have changed in the show really compliments the source literature, but others things I don;t like as much.

      Liked by 1 person

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