Quentin Coldwater probably wasn't expecting much more from his day than an entrance interview to Princeton and an awful lot of boredom and amateur magic tricks, with perhaps a few daydreams about the world of Fillory, a magical kingdom from the books he read as a child. However, things take a turn for the strange when his interviewer turns up dead, and one of the paramedics at the scene decides to hand over some of the deceased's belongings to Quentin; this leads him quite abruptly onto the grounds of the Wizarding School Brakebills, which, after an especially arduous examination, accepts him as a student. After five long years at Brakebills, our hero drifts in Manhattan as a fully-fledged magician with far too much time on his hands... up until he discovers that Fillory, the world he always dreamed of visiting, is very real- and within reach.The sequel, The Magician King, focuses on Quentin as king of Fillory along with three characters from the previous book, and on a quest he undertakes for seemingly no reason other than to defeat his own ennui, but quickly turns into something a great deal more serious. This is alternated with the story of Julia's own path of magic after parting ways with Quentin, intersecting at various points with the plot of the first novel.A third novel, The Magician's Land, is set to be published sometime in 2013-2014.
Provides Examples Of:
Action Girl: You do not mess with Alice. She's not only powerful and confident in fights, but when she was denied entry to Brakebills, she found out the location of the school and broke through its protective magical barrier herself. She was literally admitted because they had no way of keeping her out.
Anti-Hero: Quentin. Type 1. Many his fellow students as well.
Beethoven Was an Alien Spy: Leonardo da Vinci, John Dee, Nostradamus, Roger Bacon and Isaac Newton were all magicians but low level ones who weren't able to keep within the Masquerade.
Bigger on the Inside: Many magical buildings are larger on the inside, such as the cottage that the Physical Kids hang out in. Quentin's copy of "A History Of Magic" appears quite slim from the outside but actually has 1,832 pages.
Bittersweet Ending: Alice is dead, Quentin is traumatized, and Fillory is no better than the real world...but it seems there may be hope, for Quentin personally and for Fillory's national future, when Quentin and his friends decide to return and take the throne.
Ditto for the second book: Quentin is left behind as dryad Julia, Bingle, and Abigail the sloth descend into the Far Side, a new version of Fillory in the process of being created. Quentin was eager to go but was not allowed because he had already used his passport to travel to the Underworld. Then, he gets kicked out of Fillory by Ember, the god of Fillory, because he took the blame for Julia, who contributed to the events that almost caused the Fillory to be destroyed. On top of all that, Josh and Poppy, the girl Quentin has been sleeping with and who had previously refused to stay in Fillory with Quentin, decide to stay in Fillory as king and queen, now that Quentin and Julia are leaving. The only upside is that Quentin is given a magic button that will take him to any world except Fillory, supposedly.
Brilliant, but Lazy: Elliot is a mild example. He's a natural at magic and would be best in the class if only he applied himself.
Canada, Eh?: Near the beginning of the first book, two people taking the test are said to have come from 'the same Inuit reservation in Saskatchewan'. There are no Inuit reservations. And if there were, they wouldn't be in Saskatchewan.
Then again, the narration is Quentin's perspective, and he's already established to be prone to social ineptness and misunderstandings.
Celebrity Paradox: A contradictory example surrounding C.S. Lewis and Christopher Plover. Word of God says here that in the Magiciansverse, C.S. Lewis was never born. If he had he and Christopher Plover would have collapsed into each other and formed a space-time singularity. But Plover's defictionalised real life website says that he's one of the founders of the modern English fantasy tradition along with C.S. Lewis and J.R.R Tolkein.
Chekhov's Gift: Subverted. A river nymph gives Quentin a silver horn, apparently for use in "break-glass-in-case-of-emergency" situations. Actually, it summons the Big Bad.
Chekhov's Skill: Subverted. The disciplines seem to be this, but they never really amount to much in the first book. We're only ever told what Penny's and Alice's are, and only Penny's seems to come in useful. This is somewhat justified in story, as its basically said that the theory behind dividing students into disciplines is weak, and it often means very little beyond a student being slightly better than another student at some particular spells.
Deadly Upgrade: Alice uses the usually accidental niffin transformation this way.
Deconstruction: Can be seen as a deconstruction of the Harry Potter series, in that it explores the realities of what an elitist magical academy might be like, as well as the effects on our protagonist, Quentin. At some points it also manages to make magic seem well, magical again, for example when Professor Myakovsky reverses entropy as a class demonstration, or Quentin's first piece of magic. Quentin can also be seen as a deconstruction of the sort of person who wishes he could enter a fantasy world, given that he ends up dissatisfied with just about everywhere he goes- to the point that Alice eventually calls him on it.
The realm of Fillory may also be a deconstruction of Narnia, or at least the idea of a magical world to escape to, as it is pointed out repeatedly that their world is not a plaything.
Julia also fits this in the second book, though her route is outside of the magical mainstream.
Developing Doomed Characters: The first half of the first book is about the titular Magicians' time in magic school. While interesting in it's own right, and important in that it sets up the characters, who are very well developed and realistically drawn, the plot doesn't really pick up motion until Penny shows up with the Button. Also, as a whole the group isn't exactly overflowing with the most admirable or heroic qualities.
"It's a funny thing about the old gods. You think that just because they're old, they must be difficult to kill. But when the fighting starts, they go down just like anybody else. They're not stronger, they're just older."
The Leader: Janet (Type III, takes the lead when they have to form a welters team, rather bossy, and despite her lesser qualities she's also probably the most loyal to the group as a whole)
The Lancer: Eliot (attached to the hip with Janet, more laid back but wields the authority of "cool").
The Smart Guy: Alice (comes to school already knowing several advanced incantations, extremely studious) .
The Big Guy: Josh (large in size, and capable of extremely powerful magic...when he actually manages to cast a spell that is).
The Chick: Quentin (oblivious to any possible negative tension within the group, the only one to really believe in magic according to Alice).
Freudian Excuse: We learn that Martin Chatwin was molested as a child—by the future author of the Fillory series—and only entered Fillory in an attempt to escape.
Functional Magic: Magic is highly technical and rules-based. Magicians cast spells by saying a string of words (many of them in obscure, dead languages) and performing a set of complex Magical Gestures. New magicians must also memorize huge books full of Circumstances that change how a spell works, from the phase of the moon to the weather.
Possibly justified, on the grounds that Jane Chatwin was only given the time-travel watch because of Martin's rise to power in Fillory. Therefore, the range of universes she could create would be limited to ones in which Martin went to Fillory and made it possible for her to time travel in the first place. If this analysis is correct, it would effectively be a case of Stephen Hawking's "cosmic censor" stepping in to prevent a Grandfather Paradox from arising.
Hot Witch: Alice and Ana´s. Also "the paramedic", AKA Jane Chatwin.
Hufflepuff House: There are many other schools of magic. Only one student from one of them appears more than once.
Similarly, the other Disciplines of magic: the only one formally introduced is Physical Magic. The others- Nature, Illusion, Healing, Psychic, Knowledge, etc- are only given a few fleeting but tantalizing references.
Humanoid Abomination: The Beast (a.k.a. Martin Chatwin) is at first believed to an extension of something even worse investigating our dimension. It's actually a human that spent too much time in Fillory. Not that that's any better.
Made of Iron: According to Dean Fogg, cacodemons have skin like iron and may actually be made from iron.
In Fillory, they actually fight a giant made from red hot iron. Josh manages to defeat him by summoning a miniature black hole to suck him in.
Magic A Is Magic A: Magic seems to follow it's own internal rules, some of which the protagonists and magical society at large seem to know, and some that they don't, for example the "turtles all the way down" speech Quentin and his friends get at the start of their first class. But if you know the spell you're using and the Circumstances where you are,and preform the spell correctly then you'll get a predictable result- the Circumstances are so idiosyncratic that the students have to basically be imprisoned in Antarctica for a term repeating spells until they internalise some of the "grammar" of magic.
Magic Misfire: Casting advanced spells when upset will generally result in the caster transforming into a creature of pure magic (called a niffin), with lethal results (both for the caster and for anyone in the way).
Magicians Are Wizards: Quentin accidentally does real magic while performing sleight-of-hand coin tricks, which is what initially attracts the attention of Brakebills. It is also mentioned that some hedge wizards make a living as stage magicians.
Magic Versus Science: Quentin and his friends are urged at the beginning to think of their studies as a purely practical course with a minimum of theory. Apparently many magicians have tried and failed to unearth the roots of magic. But they do have an understanding of the Circumstances, Alice and Penny manage to cobble together offensive spells from books, and in a conversation Alice says that spells demonstrably pull energy from the environment to work, though how or at what distance isn't specified. The Physical discipline of magic, which Quentin and his friends are in, specializes in messy practical magic that is based off of Physics. So it's unclear how much understanding they have,but it seems like a lot of work was done to get that understanding and work is still being done to expand it, and it's mentioned that some of the new magical research being done involves using recent scientific discoveries. Science Is Wrong is averted, it's more that figuring out magic seems to be a lot harder than gravity. It also has the EMP effect, Brakebills has only one games console that's hidden in a closet and it switches off if anyone casts a spell near by.
Magic Wand: Dint uses one. Almost nobody at Brakebills does except as a particularly embarrassing crutch for magical power. The only witnessed uses outside Fillory are in first year, in which Surrendra draws invisible sigils in the air with a willow wand as part of a spell to slice a marble in half, and as part of an extremely mundane spell used for making shapes from fire with the aid of specially-prepared wands.
Magocracy: The Magician's Court which punishes magical criminals is mentioned.
Make a Wish: When Quentin finds the Questing Beast, he is granted three wishes, though there are apparently limits to what he can wish for.
Master of Illusion: The discipline of Illusion Magic is all about this. Though only addressed in passing, the Brakebills Illusionists are skilled enough to make sure that nobody really knows where they gather.
Mega Neko: A giant cat is one of the many monsters that attacked the gang in Umber's Tomb.
Masquerade: The school's mysterious nature is hidden by magic, as are many other magical locations.
The sequel adds a second masquerade of hedge witches and various fair folk that the Brakebills magicians don't know about.
Motivational Lie: As Alice uses a psionic magnifying glass to burn through the door to the Physical Kids' house (an unofficial entry exam), Quentin watches her progress for her and exaggerates how close she is to the end.
Muggles: Most people simply don't have the particular aptitude for magic: either they're not intelligent enough, they don't have the capacity for spellcasting, or they simply weren't able to pass the entrance exam. Although a childhood crush of Quentin's fails the exam for Brakebills, she becomes a hedge witch.
One-Hour Work Week: Magicians that leave the magical world tend to find employment in businesses that are enchanted to diguise the fact that none of them actually do anything. Emily Greenstreet is one of these types, as is Quentin at the end of the novel—before his friends invite him back to Fillory.
One-Winged Angel: Alice's transformation into a niffin: "Do you think you're the biggest monster in the room?" A rare example of this trope in that a) it's used by a good guy, and b) it actually wins the fight.
Our Demons Are Different: Cacodemons are imprisoned in a tattoo on the magician's back the night before they leave Brakebills. They can be released once using magic words and will try to kill whatever is in front of the magician.
Sufficiently Analyzed Magic: The method of teaching magic fits this to a T. The analysis is so single-minded that only the most intelligent and obsessed candidates can even manifest the simplest magic consistently.
Summon Magic: A salamander is summoned during a Welters match; at the end of Quentin's time at Brakebills, Dean Fogg summons cacodemons this way.
Supernatural Martial Arts: Fen's martial art "inc aga" was a hybrid technique of martial arts and highly specialised spellcasting style.
A side effect of Fergus's Spectral Armory is that it gives the castor gives knowledge of martial arts while it's in effect.
Teen Genius: A requirement to attend Brakebills, but Alice stands out even more than most.
Telepathy: Apparently the main purpose of the Psychic discipline.
The Kingdom: The realm of Fillory: two kings and two queens.
This Loser Is You: Do you enjoy escapist fantasy? Ever long for adventure, magic, and whimsy? Then you must have a lot of issues—in fact you might just be a depressive malcontent at odds with just about anywhere you end up—at least if you're similar to the protagonist of this book.
Took a Level in Badass: Quentin, when we he walks naked to the South Pole. He levels up again after he studies magic by himself in the Centaur monastery. Also Alice, when she fights Martin Chatwin. At the end of the book, Eliot, Janet and Julia appear to have leveled up dramatically too.
Done literally in book two - the hedge witch network use actual levels - tattooed on their bodies in little stars - as they learn more magic. Julia finds the Level Cap of this - 250 - and a group of brilliant magicians who are all far beyond it.
Two Guys and a Girl: The initial setup with Quentin, Julia, and James. Quentin, Alice, and Penny may be considered this trope as well.
Whatevermancy: When Quentin finds out his Discipline is unclassifiable, he says "I'm a nothingmancer. I'm a squatmancer."
Wizard Duel: Largely averted, particularly in the case of Quentin and Penny's first punch-up. According to Gretchen, it's believed that Welters was created as a substitute to dueling, as students kept killing each other. Meanwhile, Battle Magic such as fireballs and magic missiles are illegal and cannot be taught on Brakebills campus for this very reason.
Wizarding School: Brakebills, a magical university. Its mentioned that there are others in other countries. The hedge witch safe houses in the sequel also count.
Ascended to a Higher Plane of Existence: At the end of the book Bingle, Abigail the sloth, and Julia journey to the flip side of Fillory, and as yet to be created world, which is said to be an improved upon version of Fillory, in the same way that Fillory is an improved upon version of Earth.
Be Careful What You Wish For: In the final chapter of Julia's flashbacks, the Free Trader Beowulf Group try to summon a god as part of their ongoing attempt to become gods themselves. Unfortunately, the god that answered kills all but two of them, before giving one of the survivors (Julia) exactly what the group wanted- by raping her.
Broken Bird: Julia is seriously messed up. When we find out why, it's understandable.
Double Standard: Rape, Divine on Mortal: Subverted when Julia offers herself to Reynard the Fox to save her friends. She meant she offered to die in their place... he interpreted it in a different way.
Dropped a Bridge on Him: The sullen Benedict appears to be gearing up to become a hero after a year of questing and training with a master swordsman. However, just when it looks like he's going to fight his first proper battle and prove his worth, he dies - shot through the throat before he can even reach the enemy. Even Benedict's ghost thinks this was an undignified way to go.
Earn Your Happy Ending: For several of the main characters Julia especially, but Quentin in a deeper, more profound way.
The Free Trader Beowulf group are trying something similar by summoning up a god in order to become one. It doesn't quitework out.
Fantasy Kitchen Sink: When the Free Trader Beowulf group are interviewing supernatural beings, they come across a whole weird slew of them, and then contemplate checking out Greece for a wider reference pool.
The Fog of Ages: When Quentin discovers the sixth key, the man guarding it launches a fireball at him (which misses) and then throws a knife at him (which is even further off target) before remarking that he doesn't even know why he is fighting.
Nay-Theist: The Free Trader Beowulf group and the Order, who both regard gods as magicians who use a more potent but not fundamentally different form of magic. The former group even tries to gain access to the gods' magic, with catastrophic results.
The Old Gods: Referred to by name. They've found out about the magic leak, and they're out to fix it.
Our Dragons Are Different: The Dragon of The Grand Canal. Quentin explicitly mentions that he finds it disappointing that not all dragons are the fire-breathing marauding type, and that fantasy books set him up for disappointment.
The Quest: Part of it takes place in Fillory, so, of course. This one involves seven keys and the stakes are higher than ever.
Rape Leads To Insanity: Justified. Julia goes completely bonkers after Reynard the Fox rapes her, but that has as much to do with him stealing her soul in the process as the rape itself.
Refusal of the Call: Despite feeling that he shouldn't, Quentin declines the quest that the clock tree is obviously a part of in the first meadow. Later averted, as when he returns to Fillory he finds Eliot in the midst of the quest that the clock tree meadow started, and Quentin joins the quest-in-progress.
Single-Biome Planet: Josh describes a few of these. When Quentin asks him about it he says he never walked more than a few miles from his starting point on each world.
Talking Weapon: One of the competitors in Quentin's tournament is an intelligent sword. Interestingly, it needed someone to wield it in order to fight.
Title Drop: Quentin's internal monologue talks about how it feels to be a Magician King when he battle magics his way through a castle.
Took a Level in Badass: Despite being more or less ineffective in the fight scenes of the previous book, Quentin absolutely demolishes any opposition put in front of him.
Julia, the hedge-witch, has become more powerful in many many ways than the Brakesbills kids, and over the course of the book we learn how she leveled up and by the end she's taken the ultimate power up by becoming a demi-goddess
Also Josh, to a lesser extent. He's set himself up in Venice as The Fixer, a go-between between the "official" magical world and the underground. He's also noted to have become more confident in his magic and we learn has been through some intense shit himself.
Two Lines, No Waiting: Alternates between the present day following Quentin and what happened to Julia during the first book; the two plots mirror each other.
Unreliable Expositor: The fairy tale about the seven golden keys is wrong on a couple key details. The evil witch the man was trying to save his daughter from was his wife, and the mother of his child. When he completed his quest, his daughter didn't even remember who he was.
We Hardly Knew Ye: Jollyby, the Master of the Hunt, is killed within a few pages of his introduction.
Sequel Hook: Quentin is left with the keys to the multiverse (except the one bit of it where he actually even kind of wants to be; though the entire point of the series is that, really, Quentin would never ever ever be happy anywhere, anyways) and a SILVER FUCKING POCKETWATCH! What's the only other fucking SILVER POCKETWATCH ever mentioned, anywhere? The time machine destroyed at the end of the first book. This is the author's chance to bring things to a satisfactory conclusion. The series is a deconstruction of the concept of the Magical Land; the first book's theme is never being happy, no matter where you are; the second books theme is not realizing that you need to stop, that you've got enough; so the third books theme has to be the final reconstruction, the final happy ending: Quentin needs to learn what his discipline is (obviously, time magic) and use the time machine that he's been handed to try to reconstruct his life so that it's perfect. He'll fail, although we will get to see Alice again, and he'll finally learn to appreciate the mundane.
This work mentions and references:
Narnia: The basis of the magical world of Fillory. Though the real Fillory (and all the counterpart characters) turn out to be a cynical, worst-case-scenario version of a Narnia-type setting.
Harry Potter: Jason mentions Quidditch, and there are other small allusions throughout.
Lord of the Rings: Josh wants to see if he can find Middle Earth at the end of the first book.
Traveller: The name of the group Free Trader Beowulf (and the text of their recruiting pitch) are direct references to a famous Classic Traveller scenario—THE introductory adventure for many players in the early 80s once it became clear to GDW that their worldbuilding was as much of a draw as their ruleset.