The Magicians by Lev Grossman
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
Did you ever read a book, and enjoy it, where you weren't even sure you really liked the main characters at all? They are people that you wouldn't want to be around for more than five minutes in real life. Well that is this book.
Having said that, this was a really good book. I found it fascinating, wildly hilarious, creative, unique, and I have this fond feeling inside now that I've finish it. But along with that, there is a sadness.
Let's talk about this book!
As I said above, I spent most of the book trying to decide if I even liked these people, except for Alice. She was the only character I liked 99% of the time. And the 1% of the time I didn't like her, I could understand her actions. The other characters, I just felt like they needed to stop playing around and take something serious for once. Although I felt protective over most of them, and I didn't wish them ill (except for wanting to slap some of them hard), I didn't like their ways of dealing with life. It seemed as though everything was a lark, drinking way too much, taking drugs, sleeping around, playing emotional games with other people. Ugly ways make for ugly people, and that kept hitting me like an off note in an otherwise melodious piece of music. Kind of like Dorian Gray, ultimate hedonism, but without the darkly cruel, ugly edge of narcissism that Gray had. Yeah, there is a bit of a Gossip Girl/Cruel Intentions kind of vibe in some of their doings, The Rich, Bored Mean Kids and their Antics, and I hate that sort of thing. Let me put this way, if this wasn't a book about magic school students, I think I would have shucked it. But the magic part, well that was too brilliant to let go. And I admit, they did make me laugh many times. As for Quentin, the main character....my feelings are decidely complex.
To me, Quentin is a brat who needed a good spanking, a good wake-up call (which he gets in spades, but I'm not 100% sure if it really worked). He is one of those people who scream "Wasted potential." He has opportunities handed to him on a silver platter, and he can't seem to step up and take things as they truly are and be a man. Alice told him so well what I was thinking, essentially to get over himself. I think it helped...some. The verdict is still out. I have high hopes that Quentin will rise to the potential he has, because I can see it shining inside of him. Do I expect great things from him? Well, it's not fair to put those expectations on people, but I expect a lot more than he's given in life. Alice hit on it, his real problem. He is so miserable, and he is bent on being a miserable person. And that is one thing that truly annoys me, a person who likes being unhappy and wants to drag others to their unhappy party. His unhappiness gave birth to a self-destructive bent that he barely managed to keep control of, and it was painful watching him continue in his vicious cycle.
As I said above, I found the concepts of a magic school and how it was handled here was utterly fascinating and made for quite an enjoyable read. I know it's been done before, but I like the way it was done here. It brought back memories of my academic days (undergrad and professional school), how it kicked my butt hard and I wondered why I didn't just crawl in the gutter somewhere and die, but I didn't. I just kept on trucking. I especially liked the part in Antarctica. That was just brilliant. I mean....Breakbills South in Antarctica. Rather like the fourth year residency. Just awesome.
The metafiction element of the Fillory books and how they are one of the very few things that Quentin holds sacred, and how they relate back to the story of Quentin and his friends from Breakbills was an element that made this story resonate. Another part I really liked. The satire and the respectful but also irreverent (I think) homage to Narnia hit a chord with me since I love the Narnia books. Seeing how a set of jaded early twentysomethings might view that magical world as opposed to young, sheltered children was quite interesting. And there are some very naughty and quite hilarious jokes thrown in that had me laughing.
The humor was great, and equally well-done was how well the author managed to work in some pretty harrowing and disturbing aspects. The part with the Beast made my hair stand on end. Just freaking weird and scary. And who the Beast turns out to be made it even more unnerving. And the dangerous potential for magic use on the wielder. In my opinion, no story about magic is complete without this. I admit I liked that the Physical kids (as they were called) turned out to be rather woefully underprepared for Fillory. It felt refreshing, although it turns out that their magical skills definitely come to their aid when needed (for the most part). I felt that all the plot elements tie in very well in this story, with elements that are introduced in the very beginning coming full circle in a way that feels balanced for me as a reader.
This was a very well-done novel. My major issue was how unlikable and cynical the characters were at times. That might not bother some, but I don't have a lot of tolerance for that whole, "I'm so bored and jaded with life" kind of vibe, so it wore on me. At times, the narrative voice was a little bit too smug and nastily pretentious (I can't stand cultural snobbery) for me. Also, way too much drinking and carousing for me. I don't know how Elliot still has a liver the way he drinks. And Janet, well, I would have given her a few slaps for her nasty behavior, thank you very much. Even with these unpalatable elements, I can see where Grossman is going here. He's turning the childhood fantasy series on its ear, and he spins this story deftly for those who enjoy fantasy and the process of experiencing how an author can take these elements and spin a fascinating story. I just want to see more character evolution than I saw here. I need to see that Quentin is a mature, wiser, more emotionally healthy person for what he's experienced. I'm definitely reading the next book, and I hope I can find it on audiobook again, because this kind of story begs for a skilled narrator like I had the pleasure of listening to with The Magicians.
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