Summary: Like everyone else, precocious high school senior Quentin Coldwater assumes that magic isn’t real, until he finds himself admitted to a very secretive and exclusive college of magic in upstate New York. There he indulges in joys of college-friendship, love, sex, and booze- and receives a rigorous education in modern sorcery. But magic doesn’t bring the happiness and adventure Quentin thought it would. After graduation, he and his friends stumble upon a secret that sets them on a remarkable journey that may just fulfill Quentin’s yearning. But their journey turns out to be darker and more dangerous than they’d imagined.
I was completely and utterly intrigued by the whole tagline “Harry-Potter-but-in-college”; however, it is inaccurate but I was still interested because it combined college and magic, two elements that I would want to read about. So I dived into the book without expecting it to be anything like Harry Potter, and well, my (almost non-existent) expectations still did not match up to what this reading experience turned out to be.
I went in expecting that it will NOT be atmospheric or that all the characters are memorable as the ones in Harry Potter or that the world will be as rich as Hogwarts (because let’s face it, even reality pales in comparison). Instead, my notion of what The Magician would be like is a bunch of teenagers/barely adults trying to grapple with magic during their years in college and all the shenanigans that come with it.
For better or for worse, I was totally wrong.
First of all, it was true that I didn’t see the semblance between this series and Harry Potter (I swear it’ll be the last time that I reference it), but I was also slightly underwhelmed by the world-building and how the magic system works. It was an interesting novel since there are almost two stories involved, and it uses devices like childhood books or classics and a story-within-a-story device. Unfortunately the whole beloved story-within-a-story series—known as the Fillory books which was oddly reminiscent of Chronicles of Narnia—and how the actual magical system operates in The Magicians series was never explained. Instead, the system and the magical realm expanded only when the plot required it. On one hand, this created suspense and allowed the reader to be more immersed with the experience as the reader learns alongside Quentin—the protagonist and narrator—about the intricacies in the world, but as a non-fantasy reader, I had trouble digesting all the information and understanding how the magical world works for Quentin and the gang. I think for someone who is familiar with the fantasy genre, they will probably have a better time understanding how the spells or the magic system works that is really necessary to bring the world alive.
Also, it is hard to be sympathetic towards Quentin. In the first five chapters, I already became quite annoyed with him because of his attitude problems—he was rude to almost everyone around him, obsessed with his friend’s girlfriend/female best friend probably just because the girl wasn’t interested in dating him (my very humble opinion here), he disliked already someone in his class because their magical ability was greater than his, and on top of that he constantly was condescending to those who he felt were not up to his level. So basically he is an elitist and likes to remind himself constantly that he is worthy because of his intelligence—without actually ever really proving it. Then I realized that in order for me to get through the rest of the book, I would just to have to read it as if the author purposely chose an unsympathetic narrator/protagonist—I’ve yet to find out why yet, other than it added a “cool” or “mature” factor to explore Quentin’s mostly obvious emotional problems aside from everything else that is going on.
Finally the biggest shock for me was that this story’s focus was not on magical college students, well, in college. The years zoom by very quickly, and it actually went beyond what the cast of characters do after their graduation—again, something that I did not anticipate at all. This also meant that everything was very fast paced. It was great because something was always happening and many of those events also come with plenty of action; it would be great for someone who can imagine what is happening as they are reading as it probably unfolds like a mini-series inside their head. However, it also meant that many of these events seem very condensed and they wrap up in a chapter or two before the novel continued to race along to the next plot point and set of excitement. To be honest, because of the unexpected timeline I felt the overall plot was rather scattered until the very last pages where some explanations were offered. I wished the book was longer so that Grossman could devote more pages developing the plot and to make it more cohesive, since I literally could not make the connection between all the random plot points until the last thirty pages. I did like the whole “twist” that Grossman had at the end to tie everything together and personally did not see it coming, but I felt like it was too little too late in terms of unifying the plot or trying to create any deeper emotions than just a quest for teenagers who were bored. To be honest, I feel like this book is pretty self-contained in the sense that while the ending may not be perfect, it wraps up most points for me. I am uncertain how it’ll pan out for the next two books in the trilogy.
Probably what I enjoyed the most was the large cast of characters in The Magicians. Aside from Quentin, there were many other characters that walked in and out of the plot (quite literally) throughout the book. Some of them were pretty endearing, if not exactly completely likeable or properly developed again. There was the cool-yet-mysterious boy, the comic relief, the smart-and-quiet girl, the outgoing-queen-bee girl, and plenty more. While they were essentially stereotypes, it was interesting to see how the stereotypes grapple with magic and how they used it for better or for worse.
The biggest takeaway from this story though, is that I am definitely intrigued by the mini-series now. If all 13 episodes are only adapted from this book, it should be an interesting show since it will allow the plot and the characters to breathe more properly as opposed to cramming everything in 402 pages. I think it will offer an advantage for world-building since Grossman is pretty sparse with his words when it comes to demonstrating how magic works. I am still debating if I will continue with the series (but I most likely will).