Me reading adult fantasy--The Magicians, by Lev Grossman

I have vowed to make 2013 the year in which I bravely read fantasy books for grown-ups, and thanks to many of you, I have a lovely long list of recommendations.  After a false start with City of Dark Magic, I moved on to one I've been meaning to read for years--The Magicians, by Lev Grossman.  And once I got over the shock of the main character peeing in the shower, I enjoyed it...pretty much.

(this post contains spoilers)

What I liked:

1. The college of magic which the main character, Quentin Coldwater, attends is lovely and fascinating and very nicely described.   Quentin's sojourn at the antarctic campus is also good reading.

2.  The epic, post-graduation adventure of Quentin and his circle of college chums in the magical land of Fillory was also fascinating.  It's a riff on Narnia, asking what it would be like if adults were the ones crossing over to save a fantasy realm--an interesting premise, and rather gripping.

3.  The whole beautiful, charming, lovely, and ultimately sinister story of Fillory--there's a series of books about them that were the favorite childhood reading of the main characters.  (I especially love the fact that the Fillory books have their own website).

What I didn't like:

1.  Quentin is not appealing.  I can understand, and even empathize, with many of his feelings, but gee, the dude is self-centered.   Many years pass, and few meaningful words are exchanged between the characters.

2.   I found very off-putting indeed (though my rational brain admits it was important to the plot) the bit after Quentin graduates and he is doing nothing useful in New York and spending his time drinking too much, and Alice, his girlfriend who had all sorts of plans and potential is stuck there too (beats me why, except for reasons of plot).

What annoyed me:

1.  The author assuming I didn't know what the word "vixen" meant.  Please. 

2.  One of the central young student magician characters, Eliot, is gay, and I was not happy with his portrayal.  Early in the book we see him in a very off-kilter sexual encounter, and he's in great emotional pain, and trying to douse it with alcohol and forced sophistication.  And why did Eliot have to be the one who hooks up with a sex partner the moment they start meeting the Fillorians?

 I had the feeling the author was making some sort of point about how open and adult he (the author) was going to be about gay sexuality or something, and though it could be argued that sexuality and the emotional reverberations thereof are a huge part of Eliot's character, and the author was just being true to the character he was creating, but it felt gay unfriendly.

 There is another gay character, the author of the Fillory books, who turns out to have been a pedophile.   Great (sarcasm font).

(Just as a general observation, there was lots of sex in the book that didn't bother me; it didn't much interest me either, since it was mostly of an "and then they had sex" variety, and even the development of the relationship between Quentin and Alice, which took ages,  and was tremendously important, didn't make rainbow sparkles in my mind the way a good lusty fictional romance should).

3.  The whole business about Quentin cheating on Alice, and she is justifiably hurt and angry and he is all sad and wants her forgiveness, and then when she sleeps with someone else he gets his little knickers in a twist and is all Angry and How Could You and I had no sympathy for him at all.

What I am not sure about:

I am pretty sure that if I were attacked by a naked demon who happened to have enormous genitals I would indeed notice them, and perhaps even remark on them, as the characters do.  But were these enormous genitals really a detail that needed to be there?  Possibly, in that it underlines the point that this Fillory adventure isn't kids in fairyland, but I had gathered that already.  I'm not sure I wanted this particular image seared into my young, impressionable mind.

Did I like it?  Well, I read it with absorption and found it a pleasingly immersive experience, but I don't think I'll ever re-read it.  I will, however, add the sequel, The Magician King, to my list.


  1. Was the massive genitals like a tanuki thing?

  2. The source of my frustration with this book, which is full of some wonderful concepts, is encapsulated in one sentence, which comes after a few pages describing the magical game of welters, which made it sound really, really fun. Then, with no particular reason given for the shift in tone, we are flatly told: "After a while welters became a chore just like anything else, except even more meaningless." Sheesh. It's like Grossman is terrified that if he allows Quentin to enjoy magic in any way, he'll be tagged as a Rowling wannabe. So deeply irritating.

    1. True. And even Alice, who makes her marble into a little glass creature at the begining, which was promising, doesn't seem to get any joy out of magic as the years pass...

  3. Not sure if this series has already been suggested - The Rivers Of London: Rivers Of London, Whispers Under Ground & Moon Over Soho by Ben Aaronovitch. I enjoyed the series so much that I also got the audiobook versions. It's a real treat listening to these books read by Kobna Holdbrook-Smith. I used to live in London when I was very young so I didn't mind that sometimes the author tend to veer off into the history or the architecture of a building or location, rather makes me feel nostalgic especially when I recognised them.

    1. Thanks! Rivers of London is currently in my Amazon shopping cart (which serves as a reminder list more than anything). I'm glad to know it's good!

  4. I had very mixed feelings about The Magicians, but most of the problems I had with it were fixed in The Magician King. It's a much better book than the first one, and it resolves a lot of (though not all) the things that made me cross in the first one.

    1. I am going to have to read Magician King--it does seem to be the consensus that it is much more worthwhile!

  5. This was one of the best discussions my book club ever had, because half of us loved it and half hated it (or at least strongly disliked it). I was in the second camp, largely for the reasons you cite here and most especially because I couldn't stand Quention and his self-absorbed moping. Woe is me, I have infinite power and can't think of ANYTHING to do with my life...

    For six months after that we used Quentin as a reference point for irritating characters.


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