Reading Like a Writer: The Magicians—Why I Think it Sold


Recently I presented The Magicians at Reading Like a Writer in Eugene, Oregon. The group is part book part and part writers dissecting literature. It is a free event and anyone can come, whether they have read the book or not. Readers are welcome. Writers are welcome.

One interesting thing about the author is he is a publisher. He understand markets, tropes and what readers want.

Here are reasons the author compelled us to read this book:


Quality of Writing

Literary metaphors and beautiful writing that conveyed attitude and tone. Every word used perfectly expressed depression. He often used the ordinary to express the fantastical.


An interesting cast of characters. People talked about how they loved Penny, Julia, Alice, Elliot and Janet/Margo. No one said they loved Quentin, though many of us could empathize with his nerdiness or yearning for magic and fantasy. More of that under sympathy.


Sympathy is different from liking a character. Sympathy is our ability to connect with the character’s problem and makes us root for him or her. The protagonist has something he wants and cares about (initially). He wants magic. Why does he want magic? He wants Fillory but he can’t have the fantasy of this Narnia-like land, so the closest he will get there is magic. Why does he want Fillory? Fillory equals happiness, something he lacks.

The Sci-Fy Channel Series

Oddly, many people who couldn’t get into the books like the television series, or went back to reading after watching and had a greater appreciation. One thing fans (and anti-fans) like about the series is how it switches up the POV so we get relief from Quentin’s perspective.


**Nerdy Fantasy Fan

People loved and connected to the allusions to Harry Potter and Narnia. If you are reading urban fantasy/a secondary world fantasy blend, we love the things that remind us of the things we already love. Although some people did say they didn’t like epic and urban fantasy combined.


We were in love with the world building. We loved the magic. We loved it so much many of us were able to overlook the flaws.

Things People Didn’t Like:

Quentin’s whininess.

Quentin’s passiveness. He reacts instead of acts. As one reader put it, he was a plot device for everything cool that happened and all the characters around him. I’m not sure if plot device is the right word but he is a vehicle for the story, much like the point of view character in The Great Gatsby.

Quentin’s lack of awe for magic. He was getting what he wanted and he still didn’t appreciate it.

Quentin’s disloyalty to Alice.

One person hated Quentin being whiney about being friend-zoned. Actually, that was one of the few things I liked about Quentin because he felt like Severus Snape pining for Lily Evans and I wondered if he might end up with her in the end.

The saggy middle. The dark night of the soul went on too long, was boring and depressing. Readers didn’t enjoy it and hated Quentin as a result of his poor decisions.

Quentin didn’t have a complete character arc at the end of the first book. He started off depressed and ended depressed. He did get Fillory aka Narnia but he didn’t change as a result. He started off where he had started.


The Takeaway

There were a lot of things the writers in the room would have done differently. But ultimately this is a million—billion?—dollar best-seller. Lev Grossman is number one best-selling Amazon author. Even if he did things we hate, he did enough right to sell a lot of copies and have his books be turned into a television series.  

It is okay to have flaws, but that also means you have to do something else really well. If you have an unlikable protagonist, you have me make us fall in love with the characters around him or her. The world and world building have to be hypnotizing. If you end the first novel on an unsatisfying note, you have to do something well to make readers keep reading.

If you enjoy reading about characters obsessed with Harry Potter and Narnia, you might be interested in my own series WOMBY’S SCHOOL FOR WAYWARD WITCHES. For a limited time, copies will be available on Instafreebie of the first novel in the series.

For more information on my series WOMBY’S SCHOOL FOR WAYWARD WITCHES that takes place at a magical school with a character who is also obsessed with fantasy fan fiction please go to: