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I know it seems like I'm being rather direct when it comes to summing up my feelings about the book, but in The Magicians case I am actually paraphrasing one of the most commonly used sentences that is seeded throughout the book. Some regard straightforward fantasy stories to be the worst, predictable and riddled with cliches. I find these books to still maintain a charm and sincerity that makes its writing memorable. Magicians, on the other hand, is irredeemably awful, a self-aware fantasy that can't shut up about how much it hates itself.
The book begins with the main character, Quentin, attending Brakebills, a school where the attendees learn magic. The problem is that Brakebills sucks. The school has a useless game with too many rules called Welters which the characters approach with the same enthusiasm as South Park approaches with baseball. The teachers are has-beens and deviants that couldn't hash it out in the real world. The lessons are tumorous paragraphs about the boring applications of magic. The narrative forces the reader through this colossal structure of utter tedium for half the book. You'll be as relieved as Quentin is when its all over, which just asks the question, why write it?
This is the major failure of The Magicians. The author includes insipidly stupid plot developments and character designs and then proceeds to have the characters poke fun at them. The author seems to point the finger at other mediums like Narnia, Harry Potter, and D&D for these elements being dumb, but its really Grossman copying these elements and then caricaturing them that actually makes them terrible. A ferret armed with a bow staff, evil fauns, a middle aged man with a fern in front of his face as the main villain, no fantasy novel that took itself seriously would include these elements. The author tries to make a statement about fantasy when he has nothing but contempt for it and lost perspective of what attracts people to it.
When stripped of the content its attempting to satirize, the book is about an a group of assholes trying their best to undermine each other self-esteem while pretending they are friends. Quentin, in particular, treats everything as terrible until it proves itself to be otherwise. Its hard enough to trek through this HP-Narnia fanfiction just on how bad it is, but Quentin makes it so much worse, by treating everything and everyone like shit. His main contribution to the climax is bleeding out on the floor, while everyone else actually fights the main villain. It's a pity, he lives.
The Magicians tries to be a deconstruction, but really just hands you a taxidermy corpse and tells you its your childhood. There is no sincerity in Magicians, no drive, no ability to actually breath. Its a lifeless imitation, that only makes you feel relief when you finally put it down.
(This review is for the book only. I have never seen the TV series.)
I accidently posted this on the tv show page first, and then I flagged it and posted it on the actual book page. Unfortunately, the administrator's solution was to post both reviews on this page. I am honestly confused as to why they didn't simply delete it.
A fantasy novel that takes itself seriously doesn't invent fictional concepts and then immediately mock them. The story creates a magic system and then everyone, including the teachers, constantly drudge on about how bored they are with it. There are giant paragraphs that go in detail about how boring it is to learn magic, how every lesson is tedious, about how the attempt to learn to learn it are so incredibly tiresome. There is an entire chapter created to be devoted to a game called Welters which only exists to mock Harry Potter's Quidditch sections. YMMV on how much you like Quidditch, but when the author wastes page space just to take potshots, then it's hard to call that creating a world with a sense of sincerity. All of the teachers have the charisma of wet boots. One of the teachers can barely suss out a spell without looking at his notes and another is a creepy pervert that not only got involved with a student but also watches the student animal-orgies. Hell, there are student-animal orgies, which ignoring how disgusting that is, is something the teacher just permits in spite of the fact that the freezing cold and numbness of their minds gives doubt about whether the participants are in the right mindset to call these actions consensual. Quentin borderline rapes Alice as a fox, and Mayakovsky doesn't try help her or comfort her in any way. By the time everyone is ready to graduate, all of the students are bored or disgusted of Brakebills, they all speak of how fast the want to graduate and move on with their lives.
How much is anyone of this group actually friends with anyone else? The story is made from the fixed point of view of Quentin, who needs everyone to prove themselves to him about how good they are to him before he can actually respect them. Unfortunately, even among the companions that he makes that value eventually depreciates. He abandons his muggle friends soon after getting into Brakebills. He respects Penny for his bravado in the testing section before getting bored of him when he realizes Penny is vulnerable to loneliness and struggles with his studies in subsequent years. He continues to be friends with Janet, even though Janet regularly mocks his girlfriend, Alice. Eventually, she seduces him and genuinely smiles afterwards with the knowledge that she sabotaged his relationship with Alice. Its this kind of sadism that really makes me question the "best buds" side of these interactions The story never creates friendship moments with its characters, only drama, which makes me not surprised when they start falling apart the moment they graduate. Toward the end, Quentin more or less demands that Alice stops being "mousy", when his mistreatment of her should disqualify him from making any comments about her character. With the exception of Alice, everyone makes hurtful comments about each other, homophobic comments are tossed at Eliot, Josh is regularly weight shamed, Janet is slut-shamed, and Quentin is mocked for being a wet blanket. Seriously, why are any of the characters hanging out with each other?
It was when Quentin showed pleasure at his imminent oblivion that I eventually agreed with his mindset and just wanted him to die already. The story tries to convince me to sympathize with a cold, manipulative, bully and unsurprisingly it failed. He spends the last few pages making a weak attempt at atonement and also accomplishes nothing that helps anyone.
I can go in detail about how lame Fillory is, though you can just reread the book, Quentin makes all of the main points about how lame the setting is for me. Asking me to read the sequels is basically like asking me to sincerely care about material after listening to a cynical comedian or shock jock spent the last 12 hours lambasting it before having that same comedian/shock jock talk to me seriously about it. If the setting is written to be a derivative copy of sincerely written material, if the characters are a group of sadists that take can only take pleasure in their low esteem lives by cutting each other down, if most of the challenges are cut down by a group that treats the plot like an arcade game or theme park, why should I care? The author shows such detestment for the fantasy genre, that he obsessively shoves not one but two deconstructions down the readers throats, completely disregarding how jagged and poorly paced the book becomes due to this writing structure. I read the excerpt included which starts talking about how bored Quentin becomes of being king of Fillory, and talks about going to collect taxes just so he can get something to do, and that's when I got off the ride and I have no interest of getting back on.
...I mean, a good rule of thumb in life is that if a character, or a human being for that matter, treats others poorly before they \"earn\" respect, rather than extending respect as a matter of course and withdrawing it when others demonstrate they aren\'t worthy of it, then that character / human being is an asshole who doesn\'t deserve respect.
As to the rest, I once read, in the first paragraph of a different TV Tropes review, that if someone writes something for the express and sole purpose of taking a dump on something they don\'t like, their spite will ooze through the cracks and poison everything good about their work. And this sounds like it\'s pretty much just spite and not much else.
Again, Quentin is an ass. We've established that.
And again, subjectivity and all that... I fail to notice any spite from the book, or any detestation for the fantasy genre at least as far as the narrative itself goes. Maybe it's just because I have strange and unusual tastes, maybe it's because I've watched the show and witnessed the characters turning into even bigger assholes (say what you will about the Physical Kids in the books, but at least they didn't commit a premeditated act of betrayal with fatal consequences), maybe it's because things begin to change over the course of the series...
But truth be told, I thought any real derision shown towards the fantasy genre was meant to be from the characters rather than the book itself - characters which, as we can all agree, are young, stupid, naive and more than a little bit douchey.
Feel free to guess why I like this book and it's sequels, because I have no idea.
Also, I think calling the main characters "sadists" or calling Quentin "cold" (haha, Quentin COLDwater, nice one!) or a bully might be pushing it a bit far. If anything, Quentin's most consistent characterization can best be described as "self-absorbed, self-pitying, self-centred manchild with no tolerance for the familiar and utter obliviousness for the feelings of others - plus a good dose of self-destructive spite when he fails to attain his longed-for utopia."
Arguably, the greatest weakness of the first book is the fact that his maturation takes place over the course over the course of a trilogy, and the fact that he's still an impulsive manchild by the end of book one can drive readers off - again, I'm not gonna use the It Gets Better factor as an excuse.
All things considered, I think how you feel about this story depends on how you feel about deconstructions, particularly the ones that are actively and vocally aware of the genre they're deconstructing: some can find them insightful, some find them merely interesting, others find them just plain mean-spirited and pointless (see Song Of Ice And Fire and Game of Thrones for more info as to how deconstructions can rub people the wrong way - admittedly not the same style of deconstruction but similar principle). I seem to have ended up in the middle camp.
Again, I admit that's another problem the first book has: most of the story is spent on deconstructionist worldbuilding, showing how the setting(s) differ from other fantasyland portrayals... and at times, it gets so fixed on doing so that it calls to mind Movie Bob's criticism of Batman V Superman: "it spends so much time on focusing on what it isn't that it didn't focus on what it was."
Personally, I like the jumbled, disorganized magical system, the obsessive and elitist environment of Brakebills, and the oppressive, increasingly insane world of Brakebills South, but that's just me, and I freely acknowledge that I was happy when the series went from a deconstruction to a reconstruction in which something positive can be achieved through magic and Quentin finally stops being so sodding callow.
PS: One of these days I'm going to have to post my own review once I get a chance to reread the book...
Also, this is a very strange rebuttal to a review, isn't it? I'm defending the book by offering my own criticisms of it in an attempt to ward off other criticisms.
It's not that strange to me. I'll defend the Star Wars prequels till my death, but that doesn't change the fact that I cringe at some of Hayden Christenson's acting or that I immediately agree that Jar Jar is one of worst creations that Lucas ever made.
My main issue is that I struggle to understand the appeal of the series. It's not the plot, because the characters become incredibly powerful juggernauts by the time they graduate and even exceed those limits by the end of the book, with the author having to introduce a godlike monster in order to give the story some tension. It's not the characters' relationships because they act too juvenile to be taken seriously. I can't even enjoy the setting because all of the time Quentin spends badmouthing it.
I do admit that I found some common ground with Quentin's quest to find himself, as I, too, am struggling to find a career with which I personally identify with.
(If you are confused as why the comment was updated, I just wanted to make my points with less ranting.)
I look forward to your own review of the literature series.
Fair enough. I can respect your perspective, and I\'m glad we\'ve ended the discussion on an amicable note.
As always, I can only speak for myself, but for me, the appeal was in a vision of a borderline Crapsaccharine World where the education process for magic takes so much time and effort that everything afterwards seems to be a bit of a letdown, a world where magic can allow you to do virtually anything once you\'ve mastered it... except there\'s no dark lord, no set goal to occupy your time: you have to find your own purpose in life.
It\'s a dysfunctional and slightly depressing vision of an Urban Fantasy setting, and one that I identified with - as would anyone who\'s had to find out what the hell to do with themselves after university. Well, at least until the dreary hedonist segment of the novel came along and Quentin acquired a dire need for an asshole-seeking missile.
Speaking of which, however annoying Quentin got, Alice was always a bright spot in the story for me (which is probably why she got a comic-book adaptation all to herself); quite apart from the fact that she was a bright, quiet kid in a school full of big personalities and self-defensive ego problems, she earned a lot of love for finally telling Quentin that his own Allergic to Routine aspect was making him unbearable.
Plus, Eliot and Josh had their moments.
I\'ll save the rest for the review - thanks again for your time!
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