Why didn't anybody tell me about Lev Grossman's "The Magicians"?

Seriously, I was up half the night last night with it. Now, I know I’m not as up to speed as possible on new books because of my enormous pile of stuff I haven’t read yet, but surely this would have come up on my radar somehow? Somebody would have mentioned it? Because it’s so good!

It’s a “you get invited to a magical boarding school!” (well, college) story told in a realistic style, with the people who’d actually get invited to a magical boarding school and how such a school would actually work (dangerous and boring) and then what happens when you really go to Narnia (Narnia sucks if it isn’t a fairy tale about you) and how you figure out what you do with your life once you graduate from Hogwarts. Of course, what it’s really about is: what if all your wishes come true and you’re still miserable?

Surely I can’t be the only person who’s read this. I guess it must not be to everybody’s taste (you spend half the book wanting to smack the crap out of the protagonist, mostly because you realize you’d be the same way, or at least you would have in your late teens and early twenties) but it’s a very fresh look at the British boarding school fantasy genre in general and IMHO a hell of a read (but I’ve still got maybe 50 pages left, so maybe the ending falls down, I don’t know yet.) Anyone else?

Also, would I like the author’s other books?

I read it. I also zoomed through it. I will be interested in seeing what you think when you finish it. I had a hard time categorizing exactly what the author was trying to say.

I mean, it is obvious that he is trying to say something. Usually, of course, that statement is a big negative in a book, but in this case he can carry it off. Still, I am not entirely sure what he is saying. “What if all your wished come true and you’re still miserable?” is the *start *of a book, not the end of one.

I don’t know about the ending. It wasn’t disappointing, but I’m not sure what it said. I mean, “you have got to find some way to move on and live your life”, yes, but they’re going to be kings and queens in Narnia? Why? Because they can? Because it’s the right thing to do? Because if you have gifts you shouldn’t ignore them? I just don’t know. How is that different from escaping to Fillory to live in your fantasies, which turns you into a selfish monster? Because they aren’t running away from anything but towards it?

The book is too carefully structured to be careless at the end, so I’m sure the author meant something by it. I’m still turning it over in my head.

I am anticipating a sequel!

I also read a great interview with the author, which I am too slack to search for. The gist was, he wrote his first novel, a generic thriller, to moderate success. His brother (twin?) then published his novel about superheroes. When Lev heard this, he was envious of his brother writing the kind of awesome story he’d always wanted to write, and vowed his next book would be different. Yep!

It’s well-written and I’m glad I read it. But I kind of have mixed feelings about it.

I enjoyed the first half, which reads kind of like The Catcher in the Rye meets Harry Potter, more than the second half, which reads more like Chronicles of Narnia meets the film Metropolitan. I had more than a few issues with the protagonist and his friends ( other than Alice ) from a likeability standpoint. But I had a couple of larger complaints beyond that.

One was the rushed nature of the second half. I wouldn’t doubt this was maybe intended as a sly reference on the immensely long epic fantasy series, with their occasional tendency to drag things out interminably. But whether it was arch commentary or not, it didn’t work for me. Too much was left underdeveloped for my taste.

The second is I sorta got the impression that his poking fun at the genre might have been a bit snotty and superior. Maybe. Now I might just have been overly influenced by his characters who put me in the frame of mind to suspect smarmy elitism ;). But at the end of the book I wasn’t sure if it wasn’t intended as a bit of a put down and it bugged me just a little.

Still, in many ways I liked it and I thought it was a good idea mostly well-executed. Just executed in a way that I sometimes found annoying :p.

Oh HELL! His brother wrote Soon I Will Be Invincible!

And System Shock. And… well. I know Austin Grossman’s work pretty well.

Okay, buying this book now.

If you like comics in any way, shape, or form, pick up Soon I Will Be Invincible. It’s fantastic.
There’s a lot of subtle parts to it, very good craftsmanship. Parallels you won’t get unless you read poetically.

Yeah, his friends were awfully annoying, but I found it all pretty realistic - you hang out with these people maybe you don’t really like all that much because you want to have friends and you don’t know how to make them, so you put up with people being shits to you. I particularly felt his relationship with Eliot hit much too close to home, thinking back about high school and college. I wish that had been more developed.

The second half, yes, I agree but on the other hand - I mean, isn’t that a bit what it would be like? Things get so weird that you just say, “Okay, whatever”?

ETA - also, the thrown-together friendships you end up with when you’re out of the ordinary - you end up with the other people who are, too. You know the people who went to nerd camp too, even if you might not like them all that much - somehow you’re at that guy’s house all the time anyway.

I got halfway through it and decided I did not like any of the characters, so I read the last chapter, thought WTF? and returned it to the library. The first few chapters really held my interest, but then it got into the usual teen angst so I ditched it. I’ve never ready any Narnia books so maybe I just didn’t get it.

Surprisingly enough, that was my reaction as well. I even started out liking Quentin, and then found that, well, I couldn’t really be bothered to care about if anything happens to any of these people. Consequently, after about half the book, I just read it to find out how it ends, so I could dutifully report back to my bookseller, who recommended the book.

Turns out, I couldn’t have cared less. I think Grossman carried the mystery too far–it got me annoyed. Because none of the characters were likeable, I couldn’t care less for their various college adventures, and the clues to the main mystery were spread so far between in the story that when we finally got to Fillory (and it was so absolutely clear that we WOULD get to Fillory), I was seriously underwhelmed, and the resolution, as far as it went, left something to be desired. I didn’t regret reading the book, but I did not recommend it to anyone.

I’ll have a look at the superhero book by his brother, though, that sounds like a better read.

I am in the camp that just didn’t like any of the people. I finished it, but didn’t care for it.

Soon I Will Be Invincible was pretty great. I read The Magicians, but it didn’t sit well with me; I can’t really say why.

This is really funny- I just read The Magicians today. Started it this afternoon, finished it before nightfall (I’m a fast reader). So it’s really fresh on my mind.

It was… a strange ride. And I really don’t get the ending. This is not suprising. I am very literal-minded and often don’t understand the endings of books. I see I’m not the only one, however.

Funny how all the reviewers call it things like “Harry Potter for grownups”, but don’t mention the Narnia bit. I mean, not only is that half of the book itself, but its the undercurrent throughout the whole thing.

Man alive, I loved this book. And then I went to a reading by Lev Grossman, and it made me love it even more – when you hear him talk about it, you really get how he respects the genre even as he is having fun playing with it. He has a good blog over at www.levgrossman.com.

One of the things I liked about the book was how awful all the characters were. Oh, and I also think it’s hilarious - sometimes I talk to people who didn’t find it funny at all and it’s one of those things where I wonder if we read the same book.

I wrote a review of it on Goodreads. I’ll spoiler it just in case:

[spoiler]I ended up giving this book 3 stars, but I think it’s a bigger failure than that. It’s fundamentally flawed to me because it borrows from a genre (fantasy) that it doesn’t need to borrow from, leading to a clunky plot that disguises more than it illuminates.

The story is a very simple one. A young man with no purpose is whisked away into a life he only dreamed of. He finds too much privilege and ends up dissolute and aimless. The end.

Yes, more happens, but this is the thrust of the novel, and it’s a story that could have been told, has been told, better with just a college or club or other setting that introduces Quentin (the assumed protagonist) to a world where he’s an outsider incapable of adapting.

By throwing in magic, Grossman wastes time that would have been better spent actually living the lives of Quentin and his cohort. Instead, they remain vague and archetypal, while Quentin sulks and mopes and is generally annoying. Magic is just a stand-in for money as the young magicians simply act like trust fund babies.

To me, fantasy is either about world building or it’s about crafting a scenario that is somehow impossible in the real world. Grossman does neither, leaving me feeling that the fantasy aspect is tacked-on and pointless. It doesn’t serve any organic purpose; it’s just a dress-up costume that the plot is wearing.

As I write this, I can feel myself talking myself into less than 3 stars, but I’m going to leave my rating as it is and see how I feel in a week or two.[/spoiler]

That was September 8, 2009.

Yeah, but why would I have wanted to read another book about that?

I read this book at about the same time as I read another book about Narnia–*The Magician’s Book: A Skeptic’s Adventures in Narnia *by Laura Miller. I loved that one and can recommend it whole-heartedly. Laura Miller, like many of us, read Narnia at a young age and loved the books. The Christian symbolism went completely over her head. When she recognized it, she felt betrayed by the books. *The Magician’s Book *is her reflections on the experience as an adult, about the books themselves, and mostly about the love of reading and books. It really resonated with me.

As I said above, I think that Grossman had a very deep connection to the Narnia books, but I can’t really tell what it was. Maybe Grossman has not yet come to terms with it. I think that *The Magicians *is an interesting but deeply flawed book as a result.

By the way, I also read Soon I Will Be Invincible, ,which I enjoyed a lot.

I think I had read it after it was listed in one of this board’s “What are you reading this month?” threads.

It was … eh.

Yeah the end seems to be giving an option for a sequel, and seems sort of cheap in that way

I never read any of Narnia, so I may have missed some jokes and sly references. It seemed to have more of a feel of “theater of the absurd” than anything else. In that sense perhaps the end was merely a means of attempting to make meaning in a meaningless existence?

Yeah, maybe this is why it didn’t catch me, now that you point it out. I knew that it was referencing Narnia, but I had not read the books. Perhaps if I had I would have enjoyed it more.

I haven’t read the Narnia books in a long time, but I don’t think there were specific references. It was a very general sort of thing- a bunch of children go off through the furniture to a magic land where they’re given quests by God in the form of a large animal.

So there were no jokes or references that I missed? Oh well. So much for thinking it was better than I thought but for my ignorance.

I guess the point was only an absurdist Narnia after all.