Posted by: Genny Colby | October 5, 2011

Book Review- The Magicians by Lev Grossman

The Magicians

By Lev Grossman

This book has been described as the “Harry Potter for adults”.  I am not sure that is quite the right description.  Yes it is about a young boy who is admitted to a mysterious and secret school of magic.  But that is pretty much where the similarities end.  And I don’t think that this description is really fair to this story.

Quentin is a highly intelligent young man who does not feel like he fits in with is family, at school, or in the world in general.  He is continually looking for that one thing that will give his life meaning, make him happy, or fill that hole in his life that always seems to be present.  When he needs a moment to escape the realities of life, he enters the books of Fillory.   Books that he always lost himself in as a child, filled with magic, adventure, and happiness.  On his way to a college interview, he is shown another path, a path that make his feel special, unique, and hopefully, happy.

After his admission to the mysterious school of magic, Brakebills College, Quentin starts to feel that he is maybe finding his place.  Time moves differently at Brakebills, so Quentin loses touch with those he left behind, including his two best friends.  He does occasionally return home, only to feel out-of-place and quickly make excuses to return to school.    During his four years of school, Quentin not only learns how to do magic, but starts to make some real connections to those around him.   Then it is time to graduate and resume a role in the “real world”.

As many young magicians find, the transition to life away from school is challenging.  What can they do?  What do they need to do?  And again Quentin is unsatisfied, looking for the magic person/place/experience that will make his feel complete.  It is at this point that Quentin and his friends realize that the world of Fillory, one they have all read and lost themselves in over the years, is in fact real.  And Perry, a former classmate, knows how to get there.

Their adventures in Fillory are not quite what they expected and in the end, did not provide Quentin with the satisfaction that he always dreamed.  He lost his love, his friends, and himself.  Through his journey he made his way back to some semblance of self and returned to a mundane life in the real world, where he has sworn off all magic.  Until one day his friends come to take him back to Fillory, to be king.  Thus setting up the next book.

I wanted to love this book, I really did.   But the writing at times seemed a little uneven.  There are parts of Quentin’s tale that are described in great detail and time is spent showing his experiences, then to have it speed up and jump quickly ahead.  I know that this book needed to encompass all four years of his magical training as well as his adventure to Fillory, but these transitions felt disjointed at times and rushed in others.  I felt that some of the characters were not well-developed and continued until the end to have a two-dimensional quality.  I would have preferred that a little more time educating the reader on the Fillory books had occurred.  The Fillory books are very reminiscent of The Chronicles Of Narnia by CS Lewis.  This is not a distraction, exactly, just that a little more information about them would have helped me as a reader not envision Narnia every time they were mentioned.  Even once Quentin and his friends finally arrived in Fillory (actually I typed Narnia first!), it was hard to change the images in my mind.

In the end, while I didn’t love the book, I did enjoy it, especially once Quentin and his friends start their journey to enter Fillory.  I am excited to read the sequel to this book, The Magician King. For those that enjoy magic, fantasy, and questing stories, I would recommend giving this one a read.  If you are looking for another Harry Potter, this is not what you are looking for, but I could probably suggest a few others for you if you would like!



  1. I read that, and though I too found it uneven I still want to read the sequel – I’ve got it out of the library. It’s supposed to have more Fillory in it . . .

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