I knew almost nothing about this book besides having seen it all over the internet for the last few years when I picked it up, but I’m sure it was better this way. You see, The Magicians begins on a premise very similar to both The Chronicles of Narnia and Harry Potter, and there’s no way I would have picked this up based on that fact despite all the good reviews. I’m as tired as the next guy when it comes to authors writing stories loosely based off of already written stories and claiming them to be original. However, The Magicians succeeded because, for better or worse, this was a book I could get sucked into, and it had none of the magical, world-shattering adventure of either of those popular series, nor were the characters all that pivotal. There isn’t the same grandness in Grossman’s fantasy world as can be found in Narnia or Harry Potter.
I fell deeply into this book after I hit about the halfway mark. Grossman changes tempos often, giving the book an almost short-story-like air about it. Each chapter focused on a specific subject, as described concisely by the chapter titles. However, rather than distracting from the overall story arch, these ever-changing tempos and stories supported the trajectory of the plot.
The main character, Quentin, is definitely not a hero, much like Harry Potter. He is often shown up by his classmate Alice, and we are privy to his internal negative feelings often. He’s a rather pessimistic and moody teenager/young adult with little hope for the world and his place in it. However, for the most part I didn’t find having such a melancholy anti-hero to subtract from my ability to plunge into the story overall.
The sex/romance scenes in this novel were startling, starting and stopping suddenly for no reason. However, as with Quentin’s anti-heroic qualities, these scenes served to make the book more interesting and tangible in that often things in their magical world were not so magical after all.
Grossman really nailed it for me with Alice’s speech. Alice goes on a jarring monologue towards the end of the book, saying, “I will stop being a mouse, Quentin. I will take some chances. If you will, for just one second, look at your life and see how perfect it is. Stop looking for the next secret door that is going to lead you to your real life. Stop waiting. This is it: there’s nothing else. It’s here and you’d better decide to enjoy it or you’re going to be miserable wherever you go, for the rest of your life, forever.” Logically, Quentin retorts that people can’t simply decide to be happy, and Alice continues that people decide to be miserable all the time. Although I would not describe myself as miserable, or particularly unhappy even, I get that feeling some days where I wonder what I’m doing here and when I’m going to make the choices that will end up with me living my real life. What it seems Grossman is trying to convey is that people tend towards pessimism because they aren’t living in the moment. This is your life; are you going to be happy with where you are or are you always waiting for what’s to come?
In the end, despite the overwhelming amount of pessimism, nihilism, and general unhappiness prevalent in this book, I did not feel unhappily weighed down, but rather ready for more such refreshingly unsatisfactory adventures that I could sink into once again.