There are some novels that know exactly what they are, and stick to it.
Then there are novels like The Magicians. It’s been described as adult Harry Potter –but if you go into it with that expectation, you’ll be surprised. At its heart, The Magicians is a story of character, not genre or plot – Quentin, a fan of Narnia-analogue (I say that, but the similarities are so constant that it’s almost a one-to-one comparison) Fillory. He enters a secluded world – that of the US’ school for magicians, Brakebills. And magic... Isn’t so fun. They spend half a year learning how to internally calculate what affects their spells, and how to account for it – but the magic isn’t the focus here. Nope, it’s still Quentin – and as you can guess, Fillory definitely ties into the finale!
As I said, The Magicians doesn’t know what it’s trying to be – and I don’t mean that necessarily as critical. It’s a rather eclectic mix of magic classes and student intrigue, character study and crossover, secondary world fantasy. Yes, there’s something for all tastes – but there are some flaws because of that! For one, the Fillory scenes are definitely weaker, and though they give the impression of an adult in Narnia – too old for childhood fantasy, and a good deconstruction – they nevertheless required more time to build up setting, in my opinion. Secondly, a lot of time is spent on learning about magic – and for the later parts of the book, little of what we learn really comes up, and compared to some of the spells the students were firing off in the academy (or failing to), it seems slightly odd.
For all that, Quentin’s an engaging character for modern fantasy: perennially unhappy but looking for happiness, and occasionally stumbling without a clue (!), it’s a nice contrast to our more competent Rothfuss and Sanderson-esque heroes (who are equally fun – but need their balance). It’s nice to know that Fantasyland isn’t just populated by paragons and monsters. Sometimes we need a dose of the ordinary, too.
So, would I recommend the novel? Yes – but with a few caveats. What are they? Don’t expect the traditional, that Quentin’s development comes quickly and to look out for it, and that this would be much better with a sequel. Oh look. It does have one.
Read this book, or plan to? Comment below and tell me!