Review of the Magicians by Lev Grossman


While writing Tardy Spells and Witches’ Bells, the first novel in the Womby’s School for Wayward Witches Series, I was told I should read The Magicians because it is across from Harry Potter and Narnia but about college students. My novel was about a nerdy character obsessed with fantasy books just like the main character in The Magicians. But when you are writing a novel, usually the last thing you want to do is read a book—especially a book that shares similarities with yours because you don’t want to unconsciously steal things from their book.

While I was writing the third novel, Witches Gone Wicked, someone recommended The Magicians, the television show because I was writing about a magical school from an adult perspective. People said it was Harry Potter but darker. That turned me off because I like my happy less angsty Harry Potter. Then someone recommended it a third time, so I figured I had better buckle down and read it.

So I read it. I loved it, then I hated it. I got to the end feeling unsatisfied. I didn’t want to read the sequels because I hated the author and felt let down, but . . . I sort of did want to keep reading. I asked other people who had read the book if they had read the sequel and did Quentin actually mature and become not boring and depressing and the answer was yes, so I kept reading. And Quentin did improve. I loved the second book and by the end of the third book I was completely satisfied.

I had the honor of being invited to select a book and present/critique it at Wordcrafters Reading Like a Writer which is basically a reading club with a focus for writers, though not everyone who attends is a writer. I had two books I was considering, Laini Taylor’s Daughter of Smoke and Bone and The Magicians but Cidney Swanson chose that one so I decided it was fate I choose The Magicians.

I chose this book because it is the genre I write, the book did really well, but I also thought it was flawed. However, my theory is that if an author does one thing really well, it doesn’t matter how many problems, flaws or things wrong. People either love or hate Twilight. People say Stephanie Meyers can’t write, but she sold a lot of copies and increased literacy in teenagers. Why? Despite the problems with a passive protagonist, having a weak main character with codependency issues people connected with the story. And not just teenage girls. Teenage boys read it. Adults read it. The same with Fifty Shades of Grey. No one is arguing this is great literature—but most commercial fiction isn’t. That isn’t what most readers scare about. They want to be entertained and feel emotion. They want to be transported elsewhere and engrossed in a story. They are hypnotized.

Did the Magicians do this for me? Yes. I was hooked at page one because I connected to this character who wanted magic. I was hooked because to me this character was the embodiment of Severus Snape, the emo friend pining for his friend’s girlfriend which embodies Lily and James Potter renamed Julia and James. At least that was the interpretation that hooked me. Then I was engrossed by the intrigue and mystery of the school and the magic. I wanted to be at the school, even when bad things happened. Then the magic—the hypnosis was broken.  I was thrown out when Quentin became bored, depressed and was depressing, disloyal, and annoying. But I wanted that awe once again so badly I was willing to keep reading.

So I think I was so hooked and awed by the world and magic, I didn’t care when the story meandered like separate episodes learning things that felt trivial and I didn’t know where the plot was going. Quentin had goals—he wanted magic. I loved Alice and Julia and was so intrigued by their stories that I didn’t mind that Quentin was whiney and not as interesting as the secondary characters. In fact, I liked Penny, Elliot, Janet/Margo and pretty much every single other character.

I did like Quentin by book three. There were some great twists and payoffs in book one, but the real payoff was at the end of the series when Quentin had grown up. I loved it when he returned to the magical school as a teacher. I loved that he got what he wanted and was mature enough to appreciate it.

Would I recommend this book? Yes, but I would warn the reader that I loved the first half of the book, hated the second half and didn’t want to read more, but people who knew me said to keep reading, and then I fell in love with the next two books so much that I love the series.

More information about Tardy Bells and Witches Spells can be found here: