In Lev Grossman’s The Magicians, Quentin, a 17-year-old ‘genius’ from New York is a young man bored with his mundane life. Having grown up reading fantasy books, he desperately wishes for something magical to happen to him. He gets his wish, by suddenly being invited to attend a magical college right in New York City, hidden from plain sight by carefully placed enchantments.
Upon entering the Brakebills College for Magical Pedagogy, Quentin soon realizes that being a magician is not as simple as waving a wand and saying a few words; it is very hard work. He also realizes that being accepted to a magical school to become a magician will not solve his ‘real-life’ problems and hang-ups and will not turn him into a better person.
The Magicians has been hailed by many as a “Harry Potter for adults,” because Quentin, a seemingly normal boy, gets a chance to go to a magic school to learn to be a magician. Quentin also learns that there are magicians everywhere, living in society, rubbing elbows with ‘normal’ people. Though, unlike Harry who learns magic to someday fight and defeat the evil Lord Voldemort and save the magical world, Quentin, like his classmates at Brakebills spend their days in a drunken stupor, having sex with each other and complaining about how horrible their ‘normal’ parents are and how boring their lives are despite being magicians.
To me, The Magicians is a mash-up of Harry Potter, The Chronicles of Narnia, The Lord of the Rings and The Secret History, by Donna Tartt with an annoying protagonist who is not a very likeable character; a cowardly, self-absorbed, uninteresting individual. Though it seems like a combination of all those great fantasy books, it is not nearly as good as any of them (though it may be at par with The Secret History, which I also did not like very much).
Reading this book was a bit of a drag and it left me empty and confused afterwards. I was at a loss as to what the main point of the book really was. It wasn’t really about Quentin’s magical education at Brakebills College and it wasn’t about Quentin’s adventure in Fillory, the Narnian-like fantasy world he was obsessed with.
In the end, I think The Magicians is more about the choices people make and the idea that happiness is not acquired by hoping and wishing and dreaming; it is acquired by doing. Maybe it’s also about how, sometimes, what you think you want is not necessarily what’s good for you and what will make you truly happy.
That, and maybe, be careful what you wish for.
Personal rating: 2/5