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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Inventive, dark..and brilliant
Where to start with this one.....

In essence this is a very dark blend of Harry Potter and Narnia, but it has far more depth and interest then that simple description.

Young man, brought up on stories of a Narnia like world, discovers that magic does exist and is enrolled into a school for magicians. The first half of the book deals with this but...
Published on 1 Sept. 2009 by Nick Brett

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3.0 out of 5 stars Harry Potter meets Narnia meets the Real World
The easiest way to sum this book up would be that it's Harry Potter meets Narnia meets the Real World. It was a real page turner and raised a lot of interesting questions, the most obvious one being what would happen when Harry Potter left Hogwarts in real life? Because this is one of the scenario's our protagonist, Quentin Coldwater, finds himself in. That's just the tip...
Published on 27 Sept. 2012 by Nick Devonald


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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Inventive, dark..and brilliant, 1 Sept. 2009
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Nick Brett (Wiltshire, England) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: The Magicians (Paperback)
Where to start with this one.....

In essence this is a very dark blend of Harry Potter and Narnia, but it has far more depth and interest then that simple description.

Young man, brought up on stories of a Narnia like world, discovers that magic does exist and is enrolled into a school for magicians. The first half of the book deals with this but with a very dark twist. The pupils are much older then those at Hogwarts, so adult themes are introduced and the author also touches on how mundane life is outside the world of magic and what do you actually do with your abilities when you leave the institution and have to go forth into the real world?

The second half of the book deals with the Narnia like world that our hero imagined was fiction, turns out to be real and when he visits with his friends, finds out that reality is very different from the books........

It is hard to see if the author is just poking fun at Hogwarts and Narnia, or if it is a brilliant but dark pastiche, but whatever it is I thoroughly enjoyed this. It is an adult book and it does have flaws, but it is also one of the most inventive and enjoyable books I have read in a long time.
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46 of 52 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Accessible, thought-provoking fantasy adventure, 4 Sept. 2009
This review is from: The Magicians (Paperback)
This is a novel that wears its influences brazenly (there's firm nods to J. K. Rowling, C. S. Lewis, J. R. R. Tolkien and D&D) and yet despite that it's still a difficult novel to define. 'Harry Potter on acid' doesn't really come close; I've seen the comparison with J. K. Rowling's young wizard made too much for my liking, not just because Grossman's tale of a young man enrolling at a magic school is much darker and edgier than Rowling's work, but also because he asks a very good question that Rowling - to my knowledge - doesn't: what the hell do you do with yourself when you've graduated from magic school, wield considerable power and have the whole real world spread out before you?

Note the emphasis on the world 'real', since this is one of the fundamental points of Grossman's book - how the real and fantastical worlds come together to cause no shortage of problems for his protagonist, the young Quentin Coldwater. Quentin is a character that many of us will feel familiar with, (since many of us have probably been similar people at some point, or maybe even still are): a bored, depressed young man who can't see where he fits into the mundanity of modern life, and longs to escape into a fantastical world that he has become obsessed with (in Quentin's case, the Narnia-esque world of Fillory).

Yet unlike most people, Quentin gets his chance to fulfil his personal fantasy when he enrolls at 'Brakebills College for Magical Pedagogy', somewhere in upstate New York. Soon he finds himself wielding power the likes of which he has only ever dreamed of. It all seems too good to be true...and of course, it is. With power comes responsibility, and even in the fantastical environs of Brakebills the consequences are terribly real.

The premise of a group of young people learning magic and then having to apply it to 21st century living is a very fertile one, and one that Grossman exploits fully, not least in the various issues and themes that he addresses. Quentin - an engaging protagonist that inspires effortless sympathy on the reader's part - learns a lot of lessons the hard way: not to abuse or toy with the power he wields, not to try and run away from the problems the real world throws at him, and to be very careful what he wishes for. Quentin's (mis)adventures also raise numerous questions - is it ethical to teach young men and women to harness such a potentially destructive force, that can (and does) kill? Is escapism just pointless wish-fulfilment that only leads to disappointment (or even worse)? What do you do when you've achieved the one goal you've ever had, and realise that life doesn't just end happily after like it does in the stories?

Despite the exploration of themes and the questions that they raise, The Magicians is fundamentally an accessible, enjoyable fantasy adventure in the great tradition of the influences it makes no attempt to hide - albeit a fantasy adventure laced with irony and disaffection, with its feet planted very firmly in the bitterness and bile of the real world. Grossman's prose is fluid and furnished with evocative embellishments, and he has imbued real pace and purpose into the story. Furthermore, Brakebills - clearly based on the English public school model - is the kind of school everyone wishes they attended, and is subsequently familiar and fun to read about (the English influence extends to even the characters themselves, as all have very 'classic' English names - Quentin, Janet, Eliot, Richard, Alice and so on), which creates an almost whimsical atmosphere.

Watching Quentin and his merry band of slackers struggle with their powers and their relationships - especially when they're trying to put them in the real world's context - starts out as enjoyable and swiftly becomes addictive. Grossman manages to inject real personality into most of the principal characters and is extremely good at depicting their emotions and relationships - particularly that between Quentin and his love interest, which packs a serious, realistic emotional punch. Yet there are moments of well-judged humour as well (I laughed out loud more than once - on the train, no less) and it's also fun to see how Grossman pays tribute to his influences (the spells 'Magic Missile' and 'Prismatic Spray', for example, are lifted directly from D&D).

As always, there are some flaws. I personally thought that Quentin was thrust rather too quickly into the magical world of Brakebills, to the extent that I found it hard at first to quite understand his resentment of the real world - simply because I hadn't seen enough of his life there. A couple more pages to demonstrate his poor relationship with his parents and his general disaffection would have helped. Furthermore, I found his transition to Brakebills - to a different world - rather subjective; even for someone so obsessed with a fantasy world that he almost believes in it, he accepts his new life far too readily for my liking.

Certain emotional events are not emphasised enough - the horrible fate of one student fairly early on is clearly hugely tragic and shocking, yet the pupils seem to forget about it very swiftly. 'Book three' (the novel is divided into four 'books') is probably the weakest, mainly because the story is at its most potent when dealing with Quentin's struggles in the real world. When the action moves to other more fantastical realms - mainly in book three - the impact seems somehow muted (with one notable exception). Some readers might take issue with the fact that there is no discernible magic 'system' and that it's sometimes hard to get a feel for what constitutes a serious drawing of power and what doesn't, though this wasn't much of an issue for me.

Verdict: Flaws aside, The Magicians is a very entertaining book. Grossman has delivered a creative, thought-provoking fantasy that is all the more powerful for its links to our own reality and the issues it raises. Despite the obvious debt it owes to various genre classics, it still somehow manages to feel fresh. The Magicians is by turns exciting, shocking, amusing and heart-wrenching. Easily one of my favourite books I've read this year - highly recommended.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Grossman's work is genius in its own right and there is so much about it that is completely different from other fantasy fiction, 9 Mar. 2015
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This review is from: The Magicians: (Book 1) (Paperback)
I totally agree with James' review. And will add......
While it could be argued that there are obvious parallels to be drawn between this body of work and that of JK Rowling et al, I personally wouldn't tout it as Harry Potter for grown-ups. JK Rowling does not have the monopoly on magical, fantasy fiction; she 'just' happens to have written an exemplary body of work in the genre, which in turn has been marketed to death and made so famous that now anyone writing in the same genre cannot escape the comparison. Which to me is a bit of a shame. Grossman's work is genius in its own right and there is so much about it that is completely different from other fantasy fiction that I personally think the comparisons are unnecessary and the work deserves to be reviewed independently and without constant reference to bloody Hogwart's.
The Magician's is set between the real world, a university and a parallel universe. The main protagonist is a flawed, jaded young adult who seeks escape and salvation outside of himself rather than within, which is one of the main spiritual and existential themes of the book. It's dark, mysterious, compelling and at times tragic and is often grounded very much in the gritty reality of someone who's quest for happiness via escape from the real world often has devastating and irreversible consequences. It's also an adult read - sex, violence, heavy drinking etc.
Grossman is a beautiful writer - articulate, poetic, descriptive, he paints this world vividly and with perfectly-paced tension and excitement. He does tend toward the hyperbolic, but I absolutely adore hyperbole beyond belief so I'm irrevocably hooked!
I hope this is adapted for film because I think it would make for cracking viewing in the hands of the right producer and director. I personally found it much more enjoyable than other books in the genre. Read it and find out for yourself.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars An interesting take on the fantasy genre., 15 Jan. 2015
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I've hovered between 3 and 4 stars for this one, and I think I still am, so lets say I think 3.5/5. I'd also put off reading this one for some time because I read Grossman's "Codex" a number of years back and was left distinctly underwhelmed (nothing wrong with it, just another bog standard Dan Brownish thriller, and I wasn't keen on Brown's DVC either).

The story is as others have stated. It's a sort of Harry Potter for adults in that a young man discovers he has certain abilities, and is recruited to Brakebills academy for magicians. It's adult because it contains bed language and some sexual content (though nothing hugely explicit).

It's a take-off of C.S. Lewis because Fillory - the land that Quentin dreams of from the books he loved as a kid - is basically Narnia. The difference is that unlike Narnia, Fillory is just as screwed up as our world.

I'll try and write this without any spoilers, though I guess a couple of minor ones are included, although it's pretty obvious that, for example, Quentin is going to actually go to Fillory at some point. There would be a lot of disappointed readers if he hadn't!

The first half or so is taken up with Quentin's training. This is the Harry Potter bit. It's good. We meet all the main characters and the groundwork is laid for later. I have some quibbles - there are some inconsistencies. For example, all the kids are presented as geniuses with SATS scores so high that most people don't realise it's possible to have a score that high (that's a paraphrased quote, since I can't remember it exactly). Then every so often he doesn't know something basic, like what palladium is (pretty sure a genius would know the periodic table!) There's a few other bits like this too, but fortunately it's nothing key to the plot - just the author forgetting his characters for a moment.

The next section takes place in Fillory. It's here that I think there are more flaws. I get that Grossman is deconstructing Narnia and showing us that falling into a fantasy world doesn't solve all of lifes problems. It's just that I think he goes a bit overboard with some of the characters, to the extent that they come across as a bit trite and slightly cardboard. Perhaps that was intentional too. It gets better towards the end of this section.

The final section focuses on the aftermath of the main quest (about which I will say nothing - that would be a spoiler), and is Quentin-centric. This is well enough written but is basically just setting things up for the next book as far as I can tell. Nothing wrong with that and it's done well enough.

I've just bought the second book in the series, which is a pretty good sign, and the reason I upped 3.5 to 4 rather than giving it 3 ....
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23 of 27 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Pastiche? Derivative? Who cares - very enjoyable!, 7 July 2009
This review is from: The Magicians (Paperback)
This was bought as a gift for me, purely on the basis of the cover blurb on the back - which, it turns out, gives scant clue as to the reality of the book's contents.

A plot synopsis isn't worth attempting - let's just say that it's a fantasy and at times you'll feel as though you are reading Harry Potter (to the extent that I wondered if JK Rowling would be calling her lawyers), or the Narnia books. It also reminded me at times of Donna Tartt's "The Secret History" in its description of the raltionship between the student protagonists, and even John Fowles' "The Magus" both in its treatment of relationships and betrayal, and also in the way you wonder who, if anyone, is behind the scenes pulling the strings.

I think this is a book you just have to "go with" - it's an easy read, gripping and I personally found it highly enjoyable. Recommended.

One point worth noting - whilst it is very Harry Potter like in a number of respects, it's not a children's fantasy book - sex and expletives are included!
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5.0 out of 5 stars Depth and irony - a grown up fantasy, 27 Feb. 2015
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Anne (Sheffield, Yorkshire) - See all my reviews
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At first glance this book looks like a combination of Harry Potter and Narnia as it deals with an imaginary land and a college for wizards. You need to be very careful not to approach reading the story expecting it to be like that though because then you will miss the irony which the author has introduced and the book will read like a poor imitation of its predecessors. In fact, this is a highly original story which uses the knowledge that the readers have of the traditions in the genre in order to undermine them.

The main character in this book is Quentin. He is a highly intelligent young man who has a long standing love for a series of British novels about an imaginary land called Fillory which was visited by a group of children who eventually became its rulers. When he discovers that magic is real Quentin is invited to attend a college for magic users where he learns to use his new powers. Gradually he makes friends with other students and Quentin falls in love. At the start of the novel you engage easily with Quentin but as the story progresses you realise that far from being the hero you expect Quentin is a passive character who reacts late or not at all to danger and actually causes harm to others by his unthinking attitude - he is more the person I think I would be in his situation rather than the Harry Potter hero I would want to be. His friends are little better and they all consume vast quantities of alcohol as they try to work out how to live and what to do with their powers and abilities.

This is a complex and quite dark novel about the use and misuse of power and what happens when people have abilities but not the responsibility to work out how to use them. There is real jeopardy here for people and actions and inactions have consequences. There is a lot to think about. The author references much popular culture and makes quiet fun of other works in the fantasy field. There is considerably more depth here than there is in a lot of modern fantasy - this is not a young adult novel irrespective of the age of the main protagonists.

I really enjoyed this book and am avidly looking forward to reading the next in the trilogy.
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3.0 out of 5 stars Harry Potter meets Narnia meets the Real World, 27 Sept. 2012
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This review is from: The Magicians: (Book 1) (Paperback)
The easiest way to sum this book up would be that it's Harry Potter meets Narnia meets the Real World. It was a real page turner and raised a lot of interesting questions, the most obvious one being what would happen when Harry Potter left Hogwarts in real life? Because this is one of the scenario's our protagonist, Quentin Coldwater, finds himself in. That's just the tip of the iceberg.

I feel that the characterisation in this novel was well done for a fantasy novel. Not that I feel that typical fantasy books have bad characterisation, rather the opposite as I love fantasy novels and good characterisation goes a long way towards that. Rather the point I would like to raise is that its characters are emotionally idiots. And make stupid mistakes which hurt others. And it is this realism which I feel is lacking in a lot of other fantasy novels. So why is this a bad thing? Because we don't want to read about emotionally stunted characters. Reading is a form of escapism, who wants to hear about other people who don't the same stupid things and have to live with the consequences without a happy ending?

This is where I'm going to say something both controversial AND contradictory. I gave this book three stars. Now I'm going to say I don't like it. At times it left me feeling quite depressed after reading it. Some part of me desperately wants to like it, there were some good idea's in there, but I just can't. I think the author did a good job in so many respects, despite the blatant rip off of the above mentioned stories, and I like dark themes in my stories, but I just can't say I enjoyed it.

Then there's the sequel. I can't bring myself to read this at all, despite my curiosity over this story. I think there's one thing Lev Grossman proved with this story, and that is there's a reason that these types of stories are written for kids. There's a reason why J.K Rowling and C.S Lewis have been so successful, and yet there is no adult equivalent. It just doesn't work. It wasn't meant to be. Which is a shame really.

I would recommend staying away from this book.
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3.0 out of 5 stars Intriuging but slightly unsatisfactory, 2 May 2011
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This was definitely a book of two halves. On the one side, some parts of it are incredibly amusing, encouraging, fascinating and reflective; but at other times it seems to get lost in itself or lose track of what it's trying to do.

The story is divided into four "books". In Book 1, the longest of the four, the hero Quentin is unexpectedly pulled into the magical academy at Brakebills. Essentially this is an entire Harry Potter school career told from start to finish in a part of a book, which means that the wonders of the magical world flow at high speed - as do the surprises and discoveries. There's more maturity to it than the Harry Potter series, though, and quite a bit of sideways discussion on the nature of fantasy itself, complete with side references to Harry Potter itself, Dungeons and Dragons, and even a fleeting but warm-smile-inducing reference (for those who remember it) to Gauntlet.

Book 2 is probably the most fascinating of the four. It asks the great question that Harry Potter and so many other fantasies avoid: what happens next? A little bit of this is introduced in Book 1, but seeing in Book 2 how the different characters deal with the situation and the effect it has on them is intriguing. It is almost unfortunate that the book has to essentially give them an easy bail-out of the situation into Book 3, in which the characters discover and explore the world of Fillory with which Quentin was obsessed. This is probably the weakest section of the book; it reads as a fairly short classic fantasy adventure with the discovery and horror aspects ramped up, but it doesn't seem to have that much more to say about maturity and fantasy than the earlier sections did, and what could have been an interesting discovery at the end is cut short by a rather baffling final combat scene.

Book 4 focuses on Quentin again and his discoveries and development after the Fillory adventure, but again it doesn't seem to quite know where it's going. And when it actually feels like it's gotten there, the ending of the book throws in a bizarre twist which seems to negate everything that's been led up to until that point. After raising and pondering that question, "what happens next?", the book seems to be frantically thrashing to avoid facing the answer - which may be quite representative of what it's trying to convey, but lowers entertainment a bit.

So, buy it for the compelling page-turning sections near the start and the fascinating philosophy of the middle, but don't expect too much from the ending.
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4.0 out of 5 stars An adult take on childrens fantasy, 12 Oct. 2011
This review is from: The Magicians: (Book 1) (Paperback)
This novel takes a very adult look at children's fantasy tropes, especially the likes of Hogwarts and Narnia.
Quentin Coldwater is a gifted teenager who discovers a magical world after finding a dead body at his Princeton interview. Quentin passes a difficult and perplexing set of tests and gains admission to Brakebills, the only magical college in North America. The book not only charts Quentin's four years at Brakebills -including the friendships, romance, magical tests and dangers- but the period of aimlessness and wasted twentysomething years that come after.

There is little that's glamorous about Quentin or his life, and magic isn't shown as a panacea for human problems, in fact it may be the opposite. It's a very modern fantasy, but isn't an urban fantasy. It encompasses both primary and secondary worlds, but isn't quite defined by either. It's a very personal story and we see Quentin warts and all as he comes into adulthood. While there's little sensawunda, there is a fair bit of action, which takes place between descriptions of everyday life which are familiar in their mundanity, even if it is a magician's version of mundanity.
Grossman has managed to write a fantasy that responds to and engages with the magical thinking present in so much of the rest of the genre, and this makes it refreshingly different.
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10 of 12 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars People don't get this book., 6 May 2014
This review is from: The Magicians: (Book 1) (Paperback)
For the people wondering why this book has so many low ratings, here it is:
This book is essentially a deconstruction of the C. S. Lewis fantasy conceit; That the existence of magic, or an alternate magical world would suddenly fix your life and make everything wonderful. This novel attacks that notion mercilessly and effectively.
The characters are flawed, almost painfully real people. Absent are the shallow, clichéd archetypes we are so used to being fed in fantasy fiction. The world in which the characters live is every bit as gritty and believable.
I found the book to be excellently written, and feel the author achieved his goal admirably.

If you are looking for another underdog boy wizard saves the world tale, you will obviously be disappointed.
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The Magicians: (Book 1)
The Magicians: (Book 1) by Lev Grossman (Paperback - 8 Oct. 2009)
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