Review: The Magicians (The Magicians #1)

The Magicians (The Magicians#1) by Lev Grossman

Published by Viking on August 11, 2009

Genres: Fantasy / Pages: 402

Format: Book / Source: Purchased

Rating: DNF

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The first half of the book was okay, but once the protagonist and his not-really-friends graduate school, my interest quickly tanked.*


Publisher’s 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 know my opinion is different than many other people who have read this book, but the writing did not make me feel much empathy for Quentin or care about his quest for Fillory – which is necessary when reading this book.

The main characters

Quentin Coldwater stumbles onto the entrance to Brakebills College, an exclusive magical university, where he takes an exam that he barely passes. Without much regret, he agrees to lie to his family and friends so that he can attend the school (on the very slim chance that he will learn that Fillory, similar to Narnia, is a real place that he can go to -> he is ALL OF THE OBSESSED). At Brakebills, Quentin struggles to learn magic or so the book tells us, but then he is chosen to be part of an elite 3 freshman to try and advance to sophomore status early -> this part of the book made him sound like a very special bunny to me, but a bunny who is good at studying and not anything actually magical when it is a magic school AND I DO NOT GET IT.

Alice is the most talented freshman in Quentin’s class, but she is also very quiet and shy. As the book goes on, the two form a strong friendship that blossoms into romance in what was, to me, a rather disturbing scene (p. 155 – I’d give a quote, but * shudder *). By the point that I stopped the book, I was really annoyed that Alice hadn’t said adios to Quentin and pursued her own life, because she had so much potential to be amazing all on her own!

There are other important secondary characters alongside Alice and Quentin, but too many details about them will give away a lot of plot points…


The good stuff

  • The magic system does have a variety of rules and intricacies that I appreciated. I didn’t quite understand all of the rules/requirements, but it made sense with how Brakebills was being run.
  • Grossman’s writing has a lot of character and sounds like the teen Quentin is at the start of the book. I bought the book based on how much I enjoyed the first chapter – his writing stays consistently good throughout the book.
  • Allusions are made early on (by referencing Alice’s parents) to how after graduation many magicians are at a loss for what to do. Since magic is hidden from the non-magical people (to the point that people who take the exam and fail have their memories changed), this made a lot of sense and foreshadows the part of the book that I DNF’d during.

The bad stuff

  • Quentin – He is treated as a very special bunny and I don’t understand WHY. I already mentioned above how he is included in the 3 most talented students, but that isn’t the only time something like this happens. After a certain amount of schooling, all students are tested and assigned a Discipline (basically, you are better at this type of magic over that one, so you now get to go to classes with THESE people. Joy! Nothing else actually changes. à Sounds weird right? Here’s the actual quote from the book (p.91): “They were socially divisive, the theory behind them was weak, and everybody ended up studying pretty much the same curriculum anyway, so what was the point? But it was traditional for every student to have one, so a Disciple every student would have.” Quentin gets Undetermined. So they put him in the Physical Kids group, which up to this point has sounded pretty exclusive when they were described. I understand the reasoning for why he is put there (they have less members and only Alice joining, so they have more space), but Quentin NEVER receives a Discipline. Originally, he is told he will be re-tested the next year, but then the next year comes and it is never mentioned? This may seem like the opposite of making him a special bunny, but when I was reading, it came across that way because EVERYONE ELSE HAS ONE. Why does he not have one too? >.<
  • Fillory – the obsession with Fillory. What bothered me was not that Quentin would have preferred to live in Fillory (For me, I would go to live in Valdemar in a heartbeat!!!!), but the fact that it is really the ONLY thing he cares about (except for maybe Alice? That’s not clear). Since Fillory is a fictional book series inside The Magicians, there are frequent side explanations about the fictional series so we can follow along with Quentin’s thoughts. That did help a bit, but even once he was learning magic, Quentin lamented that Fillory was not real, because life would automatically be better there. As part of a coming of age story, there is bound to be times where the protagonist is woe-is-me, but I, personally, cannot stand characters who are like that and don’t TRY to find what they want in life. AT LEAST TRY!

THIS MAY BE A SPOILER – the summary says they go to Fillory but – WARNING

  • The convenience of Penny – Penny joined Brakebills on the same day as Quentin (but he passed the exam waaaay earlier) and was the third member of the freshman class given the opportunity to go up a grade early. Unlike Alice and Quentin, Penny the powerful fails to level up. He seems to hold a grudge about this fact, but then disappears from our radar until after graduation. While Quentin and his gang are woe-is-me-ing with whatever booze or drugs they can find, Penny is studying and practicing his magic like a boss. He is the one to find the way to Fillory and then goes to get Quentin and gang to come along. Fillory has been Quentin’s non-stop dream for the entirety of the book and yet, he gets to go because of someone who hates him deciding to tell him about this awesome place? That was when I stopped reading.

As I did not finish this book, it is possible that the second half would have made up for what I felt were its’ deficiencies in the first half.


Let’s Talk!

Have you read this book and what did you think? (It’s okay if you liked it! We all have different opinions :D) Are there any books you didn’t finish?


10 Comments Add yours

  1. I love that you managed to give good points despite not finishing it.
    I haven’t read this book and I’m not sure I will. But I have to admit – love the sound of magical university. We have so many books about magic school but I don’t think I’ve read any about a college! I want to go there…

    PS. Do you have multiple copies of Illuminae? Jealous of your hardcover copy! 😀


    1. Becca says:

      Magical college does sound like an awesome idea doesn’t it?!? I would totally go there if given the option. 😀 And I only have one hardcover copy, but it is GLORIOUS. I’m seriously considering buying it as gifts and foisting it off on unsuspecting family members. O=)


  2. Ugh – I’m sorry this one was a DNF. I’ve actually heard many times that this book starts off strong and then goes downhill – so it’s slid right down my TBR. I hate DNFs and have only ever set one book down never to be picked up again – it pained me to do so, but I owed it to myself not to continue and I’m still glad I didn’t complete that one!


    1. Becca says:

      OH NO!!! I just realized I never responded to comments on this review…. *hides behind TBR pile* sorry! I try really hard to not DNF books, but lately I’ve been giving myself full permission as long as it’s before page 50 (super random choice but if its’ still boring by then, I doubt the rest!). Normally I wouldn’t review one like that, but I was so flippin’ MAD at the characters in this book that I just had to vent! Would you be willing to share what book you DNF’d? If it’s on my TBR, it probably shouldn’t be –> glares at massive pile mischievously crowded around the door.


  3. Angie says:

    The blurb of the book has potential but I really didn’t like it, I gave it a 2.5 star rating… I was sooo disappointed on this book, it’s a wonder I managed to finish it… I hate Quentin, lol. And they need to stop calling this “Harry Potter for adults” because that’s an insult to the HP series.. >.<


    1. Becca says:

      Isn’t it?!?! I HATED Quentin. At the beginning he was alright, but as it went on… and on… and on… UGH! I’m impressed you finished it. I couldn’t force myself on. :/ Did the end get any better?

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Angie says:

        No, the latter part of the book is so scrambled, like a scrambled egg. 😵🍳

        It was like the author is trying to put everything on this book and the ending is his declaration that there are more to come which I honestly don’t care about. Haha..✌


      2. Becca says:

        😦 😦 I’m glad I didn’t continue it then, that sounds horrible >.<

        Liked by 1 person

  4. I disagree with some of the comments above – I believe the second part of the book is what cemented my enjoyment of it. You delve further into Fillory, and you release that many of the discrepancies or less enjoyable aspects of the story that came before the finale were purposeful by Grossman. I definitely think you should give the rest of the series a try! I definitely think the second book is very different from the first even, and although that was actually sort of an issue for me, maybe you’d get more out of it! 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Becca says:

      I’m glad to hear that a lot of those aspects play a role in the plot development in the second half of the book. Or rather, that they are there for a reason 😊 I’m very much a character driven reader so I’m not sure I’ll continue on with the series, but I really appreciate your comment! I’ll keep it in mind if I do decide to try more of his books. Thank you for stopping by!

      Liked by 1 person

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