Book Review: The Magicians by Lev Grossman

The Magicians by Lev Grossman
The Magicians by Lev Grossman
Viking, 2009
Cover art: “Arbre en Automne (Autumn Tree),” 2001 © Didier Massard

Honestly, I had hoped to like The Magicians by Lev Grossman more than I do. I like it a lot and I greatly enjoyed reading it. But I’d heard so many wonderful things from people who adore this book (and the trilogy) that I expected to be blown away by it.

I wasn’t.

I really like Mr. Grossman’s take on the “young magician” fantasy trope. I appreciate that he makes it much darker, a whole lot messier, and that he recasts this genre through the lens of cynical realism. It’s very effective. His riffs on Harry Potter and his criticisms of C.S. Lewis’ Narnia series are delightful and on point.

But there are a few too many moments when it feels like riffing on the genre is more important to Mr. Grossman than simply telling the story. It’s a great story and that should be more important than the riff. Both are essential for this book to work but I think he got the balance a bit wrong.

My biggest problem with the novel is that I just don’t care that much about the characters. I’m not someone who has to like the characters in a novel. I don’t need them to be good people, I don’t require redeeming qualities. But there needs to be something that makes me care about what happens to them.

I can’t identify any flaws in Mr. Grossman’s character development. He presents interesting and unique individuals. It’s just a personal thing—I don’t care that much about them.

Despite these issues, I still found myself compelled to finish this book. It still managed to draw me in and capture my imagination.

It’s the world that Mr. Grossman creates in The Magicians that won’t let me go. It’s such a fascinating and wonderful creation that I couldn’t wait to dive back in and spend more time exploring it. It doesn’t matter that I don’t care that much about the characters, it doesn’t matter that the story sometimes gets overshadowed by the genre gimmicks—the world of this novel is extraordinary.

I was also impressed by the climax and conclusion of The Magicians. Given the first two-thirds of the novel, I hadn’t expected the climax to be as powerful as it is. I hadn’t expected the denouement to affect me so deeply. The end of the book builds to a level that I hadn’t realized it could attain, given what precedes it.

I’m eager to jump into the next book in the trilogy and return to the world of The Magicians.

4 thoughts on “Book Review: The Magicians by Lev Grossman

  1. John,

    I really dig your blog. Are you open to review requests? I would love to hear your thoughts on my book! It’s the first in a series of seven and if you’re interested I’ve put the bio and link below.

    BIO: Adventure finds those who are brave enough to take the first step.

    Aaron never wanted to pursue kingship, but his care for the lives of his people forced him toward it. When his father, The King of Upitar, sends him on a quest to find a girl who was prophesied long ago to destroy their world, Aaron finds himself fighting the option of running away forever or fulfilling his destiny as the Heir of Upitar.

    By water traveling, a gift his people have that allows them to go back and forth between their world and Earth through water, Aaron starts this adventure with thousands of thoughts and questions racing around his head.

    While on his journey, he inadvertently meets the very girl he’s sent to kill, Madalyne Harper. Without knowing it’s her, an unlikely romance between the sarcastic and daring Madalyne Harper begins to flourish with the rebellious and curious, Prince Aaron Archien. As they grow closer, Aaron begins to learn of secrets within the Harper family regarding water travelers. Wanting to learn more, and wanting an excuse to hang out with Madi, Aaron continues to delay his original mission. As family problems and outside forces press down on them, Aaron and Madi soon find themselves running away together.

    Everything between them is great until Aaron learns the girl he has connected so well with is the same girl he’s going to have to kill…

    LINK :


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