Abandoned: Lev Grossmann's "The Magicians"


The Magicians was marketed as a sort of updating of the Chronicles of Narnia, a Harry Potter for adult readers. But give me half a choice, and I'll take the silly metaphors of Narnia or the mediocre writing of Harry Potter everytime. At least Lewis and Rowling believe in the worlds they created. The Magicians is not for fans of fantasy, this is for people who hate fantasy and look down upon readers of the genre.

It doesn't help that the protagonist is the most irritating, weasly and generally undeserving cretin in literary history; yet we are expected care about his emotions and relationships. He whines at every possible turn, he has everything handed to him on a plate and complains of his unhappiness. This while his classmates are eaten by invisible monsters, while others face genuine problems. All this, and he thinks people hate him because he's an obsessed fan of Fillory novels, a thinly veiled recasting of the original Narnia books. Really, they hate him because he's an asshole.

But this wouldn't matter so much if Grossman didn't ask us to sympathize with him. It seems that he had a hard time deciding whether he wanted to write literary character pieces or rollicking adventure, and his indecision means he failed at both.

The book also commits what in my opinion is a cardinal sin of film, television and literature. Grossman has set out to write a magical adventure for adult readers, but what that translates to is lots and lots of swearing and extensive descriptions of lust and sex. I'm sure I'm not the only person who finds this to be mundane in the extreme, and certainly not adult. (see Torchwood season 1 vs Torchwood: Children of Earth to learn the difference between "adult entertainment" and adult entertainment.).

The book is not without its good moments; there are a number of set pieces that work very well, usually when the characters are actively engaged in magic and forget their pettiness for five minutes. But for every moment that makes you consider continuing the book, there are 3 more to aggravate.

But that's not even what's most disappointing about this book. It actually hits the sweet spot halfway through, but apparently that was accidental. We are presented with something with great narrative richness; young magicians leave magic school and are lost in the world, a world where most of the great enemies have already been defeated, so jobs are scarce for would-be heroes.

There was so much opportunity lost in keeping the "post-collegiate drift" so brief, and so mundane. The characters spend thirty pages drinking their brains out. All-too brief mention is made of what other unemployed magicians do to keep their heads afloat. But no, back to the illogical sex and the half-assed prurience.

There was so much potential for this book to be better than it was, but in the end, it failed every expectation both of story and of style. It may be unfortunate, but I think I'll be staying away from these post-modern genre destructions for some time. Just because you never felt any magic in fantasy novels, don't ruin my childhood.

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