Here’s another one from the New York Times bestseller list. The first description of this book that I read was ‘Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norell meet Harry Potter in a sophisticated and menacing new coming-of-age tale.’ I thought that sounded pretty interesting, so I downloaded the audiobook and gave it a listen.
With Harry Potter (which is the most common comparison), there is always a problem present which moves Harry and the plot forward. It’s fairly cohesive, and it’s imminently compelling. In other words, it’s hard to put down. You grow to love Harry, Hermione, Ron, and all the rest. You root for them and want them to succeed.
The Magicians by Lev Grossman is completely different. Yes, there is a ‘magical school’ where Quentin (the main character) learns to become a magician. Yes, there is ‘magic’, but that’s where the similarities end.
Grossman has an impressive gift for descriptive prose when it comes to feelings, tone, and setting. You know what Quentin is feeling, and through his observations, what his friends are feeling too. The problem is that they never feel anything positive. By about halfway through the book, I found myself wanting to kick Quentin in the tail and tell him to stop moping around. I grew to loathe Quentin as the book progressed. He found ways to be miserable about every single aspect of his life, no matter how wonderful and amazing the gifts he was given actually were.
Because of my disposition toward Quentin, I found this book hard to digest. I just couldn’t get into it. My problem was that this book isn’t about magic, a thrilling plot, or any kind of adventure. It’s about the inevitability of stagnation. No matter what is happening around Quentin, he stays right where he has always been. He doesn’t change or grow. He can’t because he won’t let himself. That’s why I couldn’t like the main character. I fundamentally disagree with his outlook on life. People can grow, change, and ultimately be happy if they want to. Quentin was just too busy pitying himself to realize that, and it drove me batty.
Was the book terrible? No. It just wasn’t for me. However, if you’re a big Steinbeck person that liked reading books like The Grapes of Wrath, then you might enjoy this more than I. Happy (hopefully) reading!
Quinton Lawman is a Technical Writer at OverDrive.