WARNING: extremely negative. Some swearing. May contain spoilers.
Do you ever wonder what would happen if someone decided to be Original™ and Edgy™ and throw some Never Before Seen Themes! into a genre that is typically filled with hopeful books filled with innocent ideas of friendship and love (how boring, right?), then had a billion ideas about worldbuilding and decided to write in everything because they are all such amazing and Genius Ideas that Every Single One must be included, and then finally realized that some actual plot was missing and decided to shove that in at the last second, meanwhile forgetting that such a thing as characters should also exist? Wonder no more: the result would be The Magicians.
Let me clarify something before I officially start: I hate this book. I read it many years ago and I still hate it to this day. In fact, I feel like my level of disdain has only grown over the years. I’m not rereading it again for this review; I read it almost twice just out of spite so I could be sure that all my negativity is well-placed, and I do not intend to put myself through that again. For this review I’m using some old notes I made back then.
To get the niceties out of the way first, I will give it some due credit in that the writing style was actually quite good. The last 100 pages were very engaging and sometimes even downright terrifying. The descriptions were very good, and the premise as a whole was not bad.
And with that ends everything good I have to say about it.
My biggest issue with this book were the characters and their lack of any kind of character – sure, the author tried; there was one (to my recollection) gay character, there might have been some ethnic diversity as well, there were some girls who could be badass sometimes. But what the author ultimately failed in doing was making any of his characters in any way different from one another or likable in any form or way. They all, without exception, had the same sort of pretentious egotistical personality that made it impossible for any reader to feel any kind of sympathy for any of them at any given point in time (repetition here on purpose, thank you very much), including the (fucking) protagonist, who was probably the worst of them all. For the length of the book, we got almost no information on any character’s backstory or motives, and I can’t tell if that was because the author knew nothing about character exposition or because his protagonist is so self-absorbed, selfish and lacking any kind of concern for others that he never cares to learn any of those things for himself, and since the readers are doomed to his point of view, neither does anyone else. I have the feeling that it’s both. None of the characters have stayed with me in any way except for Alice – the only somewhat tolerable cast member, and of course she had to die at the end for a dick like Quentin, so what’s even the point of liking her – and I know for a fact that even while I read the book, I couldn’t remember any of their names because they were all so unimaginative and indistinguishable. I have the feeling that the Token Gay™ of the book was named Richard, and I only remember that because I know I was angry that he was so blatantly the Token Gay™ that it was honestly atrocious. But I can’t even be sure of that, because, as I said, I couldn’t be bothered to care about anyone at all.
Another issue was that while I do agree that the style of the narration itself was quite good atimes, the dialogue was soulless, disjointed and lacking any sort of essence. It felt forced most of the time and didn’t really convey anything of substance. It doesn’t even deserve this paragraph, but here we are.
Remember how I mentioned something about cramming a million ideas into one place just because you think they’re all genius and Must Be There? I know this feeling. Every author knows this feeling. We understand. But what every author must learn is also a little word called moderation (an issue he sometimes has with descriptions as well). Grossman had so many ideas that he just had to include in detail that the end result was 200 pages of worldbuilding and exposition and 100 (barely) pages of plot. I swear that nothing at all happens for about 80% of the book except that we understand how the system in the world works, how magicians learn, how their year(s) in training go and how they learn to make themselves comfortable in society. On theory, this sounds great! But The Magicians failed. Immensely. Grossly. Nothing but bland and identical characters that you have no interest or sympathy for doing nothing for about 200-ish pages is not a way to write a book, my friends. If you want an excuse to include all the wonderful details you’ve thought of for your world, then write some sort of Index at the end, or a guide to go along with the book itself (if I recall, this is the same problem the Eragon series had). Not to mention that no one would care how these characters dealt with their daily lives after training anyway, since the process itself seemed to fail in giving them any kind of development. At some point you just want to give them all a good punch in the mouth. And also Alice didn’t deserve the book she was in and I feel mildly sorry for her and all the treatment the female characters got in this series.
And finally, the saddest part is that what The Magicians lacks most is the actual feeling of magic. The sheer bitterness, cynicism and dissatisfaction with life that drips from it (advertised as an Adult Version of Harry Potter) kills any kind of wonder you might get from the idea of magic itself. And no fantasy book should ever feel that way.
I have been keeping this in for so many years, I feel like a weight has lifted off my shoulders. I’m sure there’smore I can say but I think this isenough. I can finally leave this book behind me now and move on with my life.
Conclusion: I hate this godawful book and the fact that it has any sort of recognition.
Would I recommend: If you happen upon a copy, burn it. Then disinfect your hands. Go reread Harry Potter and give yourself some love.