The story begins when Quentin Coldwater, a successful high-school student, goes to a house in Brooklyn for his entrance interview to Princeton. His interviewer turns out to be rather dead. During the interactions with the ambulance personel Quentin gets hold of a strange envelope with his name on it. The envelope contains, among other things, a notebook with the script to a book: “The Magicians – Book 6 of Fillory and Further”. Quentin loves that book series, but is confused because there are only five books in it. Somehow this event leads to Quentin being tested for, and later accepted into, Brakebills, which is a school for magicians, instead of Princeton. Quentin doesn’t mind.
It would be easy to say that The Magicians by Lev Grossman is yet another book about young people studying magic in a secret school unaccessible by the general public. It would also be easy to say that it is yet another book about young people exploring parallel worlds. However, I think I would stress that The Magicians is a story about how talented brats behave when they may tap into potentially almost unlimited power.
The tempo of the narrative is somewhat arhythmic with parts of the book where not much happens, and other parts where everything is hectic. Many characters are presented in the book, which is natural for a book about a school with teachers and classes, but some of them are presented in detail just to not appear in the rest of the book, and others suddenly come back into the story after being ignored for a long time. I feel that the story itself is disconnected, which the book itself seems to be aware of. Page 365 states:
This isn’t a story! It’s just one fucking thing after another!
which I would say is right on the spot, even if I would not have used the f-word…
Even though many of the themes may at first glance seem to be standard fantasy elements, The Magicians itself feels original. It is a fascinating book to read, and it is almost impossible to guess which direction the story will go at any point, to some degree thanks to its disconnectedness. The book is also filled with clever references to other books and films, which is good for people looking for clever references. For the rest of us it is a fascinating, and quite disturbing, text.