Sunday, December 5, 2010

Review: The Magicians by Lev Grossman


Viking Adult - a division of Penguin Group

Published: August 2009

ISBN: 978-0670020553

Reviewed by Earl Davis


Quentin Coldwater is brilliant but miserable. A senior in high school, he's still secretly preoccupied with a series of fantasy novels he read as a child, set in a magical land called Fillory. Imagine his surprise when he finds himself unexpectedly admitted to a very secret, very exclusive college of magic in upstate New York, where he receives a thorough and rigorous education in the craft of modern sorcery.

He also discovers all the other things people learn in college: friendship, love, sex, booze, and boredom. Something is missing, though. Magic doesn't bring Quentin the happiness and adventure he dreamed it would. After graduation he and his friends make a stunning discovery: Fillory is real. But the land of Quentin's fantasies turns out to be much darker and more dangerous than he could have imagined. His childhood dream becomes a nightmare with a shocking truth at its heart.


Every story has been told at least once. It’s the ultimate truth that all writers face. In the end, the prestige lays in how the storyteller can convince the audience to ignore that truth and accept the tale as something fresh.

The Magician doesn’t just fail. It stumbles around the stage imitating the images, themes and ideas already handled expertly in other novels. It borrows (and I use the term loosely) from J.K. Rowling, C.S. Lewis, E.L. Doctorow and J.D. Salinger so heavily that I’m forced to wonder if Lev Grossman has a fetish for authors who use initials in place of given names.

Make no mistake, writing is a craft and Lev Grossman is a craftsman. While reading, The Magicians, I couldn’t help but imagine him; brow furrowed, back hunched, wrists bent through endless hours over his keyboard. I can taste the stale caffeine and smell the man-funk that accumulates from sitting still for far too long in the same spot. Then at last, after months and months, triumphantly his finger strikes that final period and his creation is complete.

Unfortunately, his creation isn’t his own. This novel broke my heart. I wanted it to be great because Grossman deserves it. He’s earned it, but in the end The Magicians is nothing more than a well-polished amalgamation of other works. In a way, it reminds me of the art forgers who can copy beautiful oil paintings of the Great Masters, but they live in the utter frustration at never hearing the Muses’ call.


I’d recommend this novel for any new writer as a case study. Everyone else should steer clear.

2 out of 5 stars

1 comment:

Mossy said...

Quite interesting--I'd seen another review of this that was quite favorable. Well, a counterbalance has been added to consideration, I suppose...