The Magicians by Lev Grossman
Publication Date: August 11, 2009
Publisher: Viking Penguin
1 out of 5 stars
Quentin is your average genius high school student: destined for the Ivy League, and still a little disappointed that he never stumbled upon Fillory, the fantasy world from a famed series of children’s novels that appears when you least expect it. One day, as he wonders if this is really all that life has to offer, he somehow arrives at Brakebills, a university that trains exceptional students in magic. But is anything really as good as it seems?
If you couldn’t already tell from the 1 star rating, I absolutely hated this book. In fact, I seriously considered not even writing a review. I couldn’t even finish this book. If you check my Goodreads, it’s on my DNF (did not finish) shelf. Normally, if I don’t finish a book I don’t give it a rating, because I don’t feel comfortable rating a book that I didn’t even read all the way through. This book is an exception, however, because it was so awful that I felt the need to contribute what little I could to bringing down its average rating on Goodreads. That being said, if you loved this series, and will just get angry reading a lot of hate directed towards this book, maybe just click away.
Why then, did I decide to write a review? Because I felt like I was not adequately warned about this piece of trash. It received a tv adaptation, for crying out loud! Let’s break it down into the major reasons why I really hated this book.
1: The Pacing
The pacing of this entire book felt way off. “Four” years of university only take place over half of the book, and then the other half are post-graduate. If the time spent doing course work was well developed, this might have been alright, but in execution it just felt like Grossman had the idea of writing about a magical university, but didn’t feel like sticking around to actually figure out what that would look like. He actually ends up having characters “skip” ahead to the next year, and it definitely feels like it’s just because he doesn’t want to write any more about what that year of school entails. The novel felt like it should have been split into two seperate books, but each book would have been too short, so instead Grossman just decided to mash them together into one book.
2: The Concept
This should have been a really cool book. It’s got elements of Harry Potter and The Chronicles of Narnia, and you can tell that Grossman was trying to subvert the whole concept of being whisked away to a magical world where you’re the Chosen One of some sort, and everything is just better. Which could have been a really fascinating read. I would have loved to have read a story where Quentin gets whisked off to a magical world where he’s the Smartest of the Smarts and the best at Magicking, where everything he had always imagined was actually real, and then watching him slowly discover that this world wasn’t all it was cracked up to be. But that’s not the story we got. That’s the story that Grossman was aiming for…but don’t you kind of have to be enchanted by something before you can become disenchanted? In order for me to really feel the weight of the realisation that Brakebills actually kind of sucks, shouldn’t you build it up first?
3: I Don’t Trust The Author
Throughout the book we are informed of several things. We are told that the magic is fascinating. We are told that Brakebills is impressive. We are told many things. And then we’re just expected, as the reader, to believe that this is true. The number of times that a student or a professor “did something impressive and intricate with their hands” was uncountable. And that phrase means nothing. Especially when it’s repeated every time that someone does magic. I have no idea what Brakebills looks like. I know that Quentin knows exactly what it looks like, but that’s it. This book really needed a strong hand in the editing department, and it did not receive the help it so desperately required.
4: The Sexism
Oh. My. Word. This was enough to make me hate the book on its own. Everything else was just further proof to me that this was a bad book. But the sexism was terrible. Every single female character was described first by her large chest (I think there was one woman who didn’t have her large breasts described for the reader, and that’s because she was “flat and flapperish”, which made her “pretty rather than beautiful”). Quentin could not have a five minute conversation with any woman without being distracted by her breasts. There was a moment where he became honestly concerned that his crush back home (who was dating his best friend) would probably be super offended that he was developing an obsession with one of his professors. He was constantly “trying” not to look down ladies’ shirts. The one woman who he did not objectify within the first quarter of the novel, he infantilized, feeling the need to protect her, despite the fact that she had thus far proved to be far superior to him. AT ONE POINT A WOMAN’S BREASTS WERE DESCRIBED AS “GROPABLE”. GROPABLE. There was a scene where Quentin accidentally walked in on two gay men being intimate, and he actually got offended because he hadn’t been invited. He wouldn’t have said yes, of course not, but he couldn’t believe that this student hadn’t approached him.
Don’t read this book. I know it’s been marketed as Harry Potter for adults. I know that George R. R. Martin blurbed it, calling it whiskey to Harry Potter’s weak tea. I know it’s been turned into a television show. But it’s honestly so bad. If the constant sexism doesn’t bother you, the poor pacing and terrible writing will. Or vice versa. Just pick something else. Anything else.