Book review – The Magicians by Lev Grossman

May 31, 2013 6:20 pm



The magicians is best described as a very gritty and harsh fantasy novel. I am hesitant to compare it to Harry Potter and while it is in some ways similar it is also very, very different.

The story follows the life of Quentin Coldwater. Although he is very smart and on his way to an interview at the Ivy League college of Princeton, his life is mired by depression. Asides from being in love with Julia, his best friend’s girlfriend, his parents seem to be a part of the background in his life, something that is just there. Quentin just does not feel like he belongs or his life is right and so he does two of his favourite things obsessively in order to escape; magic tricks and reading. But he does not just read any book, he reads a series of books about a magical world called “Fillory”, and what he would do if he was able to live there, but every time he stops for a moment he crashed back to the bleak reality that is Manhattan. The “Fillory books” have always been a part of his life since his childhood.

So when he and his best friend, James, turn up to their Princeton interview with the interviewer dead in his own home, Quentin receives a mysterious note from a mysterious paramedic and things begin to change very quickly…

Author: Lev Grossman


The most striking element about the Magicians is it’s dark and gritty side. Personally speaking, if something is focused on fantasy then I don’t expect it to be like that, but it does make sense. Sex, alcohol and drugs feature heavily, and why won’t it? Quentin is someone who is about to go to University (or as the Americans like to call it, College); a young man who is about to mingle with young men and women.  As well as that, the world of magic is way more unpredictable and chaotic than our world, so accidents and deaths are bound to happen. Did I mention the swearing? Well we all swear when we grow up, so why can’t Quentin and his friends?

Unlike the Harry Potter books, the Magicians does not slowly follow the life of Quentin in a series of adventures, and for the most part of it there is no hint or conception of a “good vs. evil”. It is his life in its entirety and how it was changed, and it is also just as much about a personal journey and dealing with people as human beings as well as dealing with the magical world. The problems faced by Quentin are not just those of the “bad guys” as it were, it is also in dealing with his depression and personal issues.


The book goes straight into the beginnings of Quentin’s adventure that is his life, it does not dawdle for pages and pages which is something that I appreciated. But it also has the good balance of not revealing things so quickly; instead slowly drawing the curtains to a very mysterious and exciting world. As more and more is revealed, I found that I wanted to know more and more about this underground world which lives directly alongside ours.

The dark nature of the book combined with a lack of “good versus evil” from the beginning leaves one with a sense of suspense; what will happen next? What will go wrong?

Well why not read the book and find out?

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