by Lev Grossman
I have several different layers of reactions to this book.
Started reading it when it was first published and didn’t quite manage to get too far. I was sufficiently intrigued by the premise and the tone (smart and snarky and somehow languish as well — there’s a definite “drawl” in the sentence delivery here) to pick it up again and finish it this time around. And gosh, how much I HATED parts of the book!!!
Good things first: Grossman definitely knows his fantasy tropes and knows how to subvert some of the conventions. Magic isn’t easy. Magical lands can really hurt/kill you. Being a magician might not be as glamorous as one think. And he definitely delivered some cool inventive magic powers in the book. I love the transformation from human to geese, the various elemental and physical magic spells and powers, and the time/space travel scenarios, among many other minor and interesting magic tricks.
But.. but… but…. Quentin is SUCH A BORE. Such an angsty whiny little man that I simply couldn’t muster any compassion for him and his predicaments. The constant search for happiness and the disappointments, the high school and college romantic affairs that turn out to be just petty relationship drivels. And Alice as a super-magician was just a convenient device so she could save the day and sacrifice herself so that Quentin can somehow have a revelation (a bit too little too late) at the end of the tale.
Grossman managed to create a really unattractive fantasy book that makes me want to cry… in making sure that the readers realize that magic and the fantasy world is Real and is Hard and is Dangerous, he also made sure that much of the charm of a great fantasy novel is destroyed by his words.
Upon discussing this book with my teen readers, though, I realized that perhaps it’s just me being a middle aged reader who is tired and sick of anything dealing with relationship conflicts. These high school readers sense and fantasize about all those college romances as something to ponder and to look forward to and to experience in their near future. So, those quarrels, sex partnering, betrayals, loyalties, etc. add to the attraction of the book, not diminish it. I heard that the sequel is better.. should I continue??
2 responses to “The Magicians”
I agree that Grossman does create an alternative and not-very-pleasant fantasy land in a clear contrast to those of what young people imagine Fithian (that was the world, wasn’t it), but I found that fascinating. Are you bothered because it represents fantasy to none-fantasy readers as terrible? I was absolutely intrigued by how he was subverting and playing with tropes. I was less enthused about the rakish, druggy young adults. So I ended up mixed about the book, but did go on to read and enjoy the sequel — and seem to recall the world comes across more nuanced in it.
I totally agreed with admiring his ability to play with the tropes and I don’t even mind that the fantasy world isn’t charming. (Deep down, I KNOW I wouldn’t survive for 30 seconds if I were ever to enter say, Lyra’s life or Frodo’s.) I just really really find all the excessive drinking, partying, petty relationship whining very tedious. As I said: I have no patience for such stories any more.