Why must we compare everything?
The Magicians is touted as an adult version of Harry Potter. It’s not. The only things these books have in common are that they feature magic and there’s a teen protagonist. But Quentin is only a teen for the first third of the book – if that. And he’s starting university. He’s at a different stage in his life than Harry, and coming from a different background. Quentin isn’t a maltreated young boy desperate for someone to save him. Quentin is a bored, wealthy, angsty schmuk. And to continue the Potter comparisons for a second, do you remember Order of the Phoenix, Harry is so emo – poor, poor me. Everything is about me– if not for his friends, he could easily have wondered away from the character people love. Quentin’s friends from high school are just as spoiled and bratty as he is, and when he gets into Brakebills his new friends as more of the same. A better comparison might be Gossip Girl with magic.
The ‘heroes’ of this story aren’t happy people; they’re actually pretty negative. I’m not of the school of thought that you have to love the characters in your book, but you should be able to relate to them. And I could – not because I’m a miserable crank but because I’ve studied something I loved and ended up not using it. Quentin’s whole life has been about the fictional magic of Fillory. He’s kept a small, hidden part of his heart full of the belief that magic is real, but when he finally found out that it really was, it wasn’t what he expected. He wanted wands and wrist flicks and excitement. What he got was hard work and practice and frustration. Magic isn’t easy. It’s hard word. Really hard work. And it’s a little boring. It’s kind of like accounting (so not the thing I loved and studied). Quentin goes to university, studies this thing he expects to be amazing, and when he’s done, it’s just that. Done. Sent out into the world to figure out how to use it in some meaningful way. Made harder for Quentin because he never did find his specialty.
Magic seems like it should solve all the problems, but it doesn’t. It actually increases them. Quentin and his friends shouldn’t have to work as non-magical people (admission – I have to remind myself not to type muggle). So, they don’t work harder, and they end up getting bored. Eliot is a drunk. Alice disappears into her books. Janet is… well, she’s just pretty unpleasant. Quentin is lazy and bored and ends up cheating on Alice with Janet. Alice is mad and sleeps with Penny. Quentin is belligerent about it – this is the only time I’m genuinely angry with him. You made your bed, buddy.
Let’s talk about Penny for a second. Mildly interesting character when he appears at the test. Slightly more interesting when he beats up Quentin. Pops up again when his magical proclivity is so rare it has no classification. Then, he just appears one day out of nowhere – after I’d kind of forgotten about him – with the buttons that will transport the group to Fillory. Where Penny turns into a hilariously sycophantic dolt. Super entertaining. Oh, and then his hands get bitten off. I liked Penny.
There are so many different sections of this book and it spans so many years, that if I went through them all, this review would never end.
However, I do want to take a second to talk about Fillory. It’s so clearly based on C. S. Lewis’ Narnia (as you will know is close to my heart if you’ve read my previous post https://hellphiesfiendishfiction.wordpress.com/2014/01/21/the-way-you-make-me-feel/) , sometimes, it’s hard not to make comparisons, but this isn’t the same kind of place and the Chatwins are NOT the Pevensies. Fillory is dark and unhappy and it’s the fault of the Chatwins. The reveals near the end of the book are awesome and plentiful. I actually did not see these coming. There was so much going on that I didn’t even stop to consider that the man who appeared in Quentin’s class had anything to do with Fillory, much less that he’s Martin. Martin is The Beast! The Beast has destroyed Fillory. Then we find out the paramedic from the first chapter is Jane. And she’s also the Watcher Woman from the first book, which happened before her character ever went to Fillory, which she did to stop her brother from doing something that happens in one of the books (the third maybe)… it almost hurts the brain – if you’re not a time travel fan (Whovian here).
Then some other stuff happens and Quentin leaves magic behind and then he gets sucked back in again (my audiobook dropped some stuff and I’m not sure exactly how that happened) and we end up with a second book. Grossman’s writing in The Magicians isn’t excellent. It’s a little trite and overwritten, but that kind of works with the world these students inhabit. They’re those kind of people.
If you’re looking for Harry Potter or fast paced action, avoid this book. If you can get down with a book with unlikable characters and directionless adventures, this might be up your alley. There’s room for character growth when you start with ones this undeserving. Whether or not that will happen, who knows, but I liked this one and don’t think it deserves a lot of the flack it’s getting. I’m going to read the second book.
***ooo things are coming back to me – the scene with the foxes. The whole Brakebills south thing. Welters. The demons in their backs. Why was Janet’s only moment of conscious when she released this thing. Why did Janet get so sick in the Neitherworld. The Neitherworld itself. The story about Alice’s brother and his death. Yeah. I could talk about this book for a while. But here I stop. I’ll do that with the people that recommended it.