With all the excitement that buzzed around the internet over the publication of the final installment in Lev Grossman’s Magicians trilogy I decided that it might be worth giving the books a go. I borrowed the first book, The Magicians from the library and eagerly began to read.
The book had an interesting start, high school senior Quentin Coldwater and his two friends, all three extremely smart and planning on being admitted to top universities, are dressed up to attend interviews for said universities. Quentin and James each have an appointment with the same interviewer but when they arrive at the house in Brooklyn they find the man dead. But something doesn’t add up. They call the police and one of the paramedics hands the pair large envelopes as she leaves. James refuses his, too freaked out by the day’s events. Quentin takes his and so begins the first step of his new life.
Besides being smart, Quentin is also gifted in slight of hand magic tricks and obsessed with Fillory, a series of books he has read over and over again since childhood. Fillory is very much a Chronicles of Narnia sort of series of books. But the children are named Chatwin and instead of Aslan there are two rams, Ember and Umber who oversee Fillory. It all felt very silly to me and I kept wishing every time Fillory was brought up that Aslan would come bounding in and liven things up with a few swipes of his big lion paw.
But I get ahead of myself. In the envelope Quentin receives is an invitation to sit for exams at a wizard school, Brakebills. Quentin passes and instead of attending Harvard or Yale, he is now going to college to learn how to be a real magician. There were some interesting bits but as with Fillory, I couldn’t stop thinking Harry Potter does this better. While Hogwarts is a grade school thing, Brakebills is college. Instead of Quidditch there is Welters. Instead of houses there are specialized areas of study which are their own kind of “house.” Quentin is a “Physical kid.” Physical magic being one of the more difficult areas, the group is very small. With the addition of Quentin and the smart and talented and pretty but introverted Alice, the group numbers seven.
And so we follow Quentin and Alice through their four years at Brakebills which would normally be five but they are so smart and talented they get jumped ahead a year. There are minor adventures and some interesting things that happen but it kind of all drags on a bit.
At this point I was debating whether I should even bother finishing the book. I decided to keep going. I thought there must be some kind of payoff since the series is so popular. And the last third of the book did pick up and get pretty good. I can’t say that it redeemed the first two-thirds of the book, but I ended up feeling okay about it instead of wondering why I had bothered. Besides the story in the first part of the book feeling unoriginal, the writing itself is frequently clunky. It manages to get better by the end, or maybe the plot just got better so I wasn’t paying as much attention to the writing itself?
I am far from loving the book and being excited enough about it to tell everyone I know to read it. However, I liked it enough to be willing to give the next book, The Magician King, a go. I won’t be doing this any time soon, I need to get a little distance from The Magicians in order to make a fresh approach at book two. Perhaps over the summer.