A thrilling and original coming-of-age novel for adults about a young man practicing magic in the real world.
Quentin Coldwater is brilliant but miserable. A senior in high school, he’s still secretly preoccupied with a series of fantasy novels he read as a child, set in a magical land called Fillory. Imagine his surprise when he finds himself unexpectedly admitted to a very secret, very exclusive college of magic in upstate New York, where he receives a thorough and rigorous education in the craft of modern sorcery.
Initially, I rated this book 4 stars, but as I was writing this review, I realized I leaned more toward 3.5.
Spoilers for the book and show are present but probably not life-changing.
I read this book because I absolutely adore the show and after binge watching season 4, I decided I need more of the universe and I thought it might help throw me out of my reading slump. Admittedly, I watched the show first, which is something I try very hard not to do, but in this case I didn’t even know there was a book.
For those of you that just want a short review: Just watch the show, it’s better.
Yikes! A show that is better than the book? Unfortunately I feel like this review is going to more of a comparison. Grossman tries really hard to immerse his readers into the world of The Magicians, but if I hadn’t already seen the show, I think I would have been quite lost. The thing that threw me off the most about this book is that the main character, Quentin Coldwater (who I love), isn’t even out of high school when he gets whisked away from his life and everyone he knows to go to Brakebills College, a school that teaches magic. At the start of the book, it’s clear that Quentin has some serious depression and that he feels like he doesn’t belong anywhere. However, the further you get into the book, the more you realize that that’s simply how the narration is written. Unlike the TV show, this book talks about Quentin’s magical experiences over the course of at least 5 years. It jumps around quite a bit, but there were times I felt like it helped me understand parts of the show where I had been confused. However, this constant jumping around also made me feel like we were simply skipping over the nitty gritty details and jumping right into the most interesting thing to happen to him every year. This isn’t something I would normally complain about, but when you just get into his 4th year at Brakebills for a chapter and then instantly jump into his 5th year, it feels a little off.
The thing that really hit me was how bitter the characters all were. It was like Grossman was trying to convince me that magic was terrible and life-ruining. The characters were driven mostly by emotion, often betraying their friends and getting into screaming matches only to sleep with that person or forget an altercation ever happened at all. Strong characters that I love in the TV show suddenly were weak and quiet or considered obnoxious and scandalous. It was quite jarring.
A side note: This book was published in 2009, but for some reason still used the outdated term “hermaphrodite” in one instance, which felt weird to me. No one in editing thought that should be addressed?
Throughout the whole book, you’re always been told about the books Fillory and Further because they are books that the main character Quentin was in love with since he was a kid and then continued to love long after his friends and peers had given that up. Believe it or not, Fillory doesn’t become a reality until the last 150 pages or so. I mean they put the map of Fillory in the book’s end pages for god’s sake, you would think it was the main plot point. But the real plot point of the book seems to be “How will Quentin handle this next magical thing?”. It’s somewhat unclear. What is clear is the theme of “magic always comes with a price” or “dreams are never what you thought they would be” which is very Once Upon a Time, but accurate.
Overall, if you want a book that talks about the principles of magic and jumps around from interesting plot point to interesting plot point with characters that might all love or might all hate each other (it’s really hard to tell), then this might be the book for you! However, if you want a TV show packed full of action with badass females, an awesome magic concept, and multiple universes, I definitely recommend watching the show first and then reading the book to see what was supposed to happen. Honestly, the show runs relatively the same as the book, with a few tweaks here and there that were actually for the better.
Bonus points awarded for: unique magic system, book inside of a book, and map