The Magicians by Lev Grossman
Rating: 3 stars out of 5
If you want a book that will positively EXPLODE 100 pages from the end before tapering off into the disheartening mess that came before, you need look no further.
For those of you late to the party like me, The Magicians is about Quentin Coldwater, quite possibly the most unlikable character in the history of American literature. He is accepted into a magic school, graduates, and then finally goes on a wild quest culminating in a particularly jaw-dropping magical fight scene that almost makes the rest of the book worth it and situates this tome safely in the three-star zone.
I have many issues with this book, large and small. While Grossman's overall writing style is solid, avoiding gaffes of epic proportions, his well-noted overuse of similes is not exaggerated. On one page alone, the following similes occurred: "as if she were floating in a swimming pool;" "like she was blown from Murano glass;" "like a faltering radio signal;" "thin as taffy;" "translucent as cellophane." I am probably missing one or two due to sheer desensitization. Grossman also has a knack for putting in details- but not always the details I'd want to know. I learned more about Quentin's pee than I have ever learned about the pee of another character in any book I've ever read. We learn when it is acidic. We learn when it is orange.We learn when he goes to piss against a tree. It would be one thing if this served a point, but it did not.
Either Grossman or Quentin is sharply misogynistic. I am not sure which, but will confess I spent most of the book thinking it was Grossman before the last 100 or so pages when I was confronted with the fact that he might know what he's doing after all. One woman was, in Quentin's estimation, too pretty to be a paramedic. Another was described as too pretty to be a magician. Yet another was described as projecting "both toughness and kindness." Based on this description ALONE, she is described as "to the best of Quentin's ability to gauge these things, a lesbian." I won't even touch on the implications of some of the sex in this book.
I was unfortunately left with the vague impression, even at the end, that Grossman wasn't quite sure what he wanted to do. Is this a legitimate fantasy novel? Is it a satire or parody? Is it a cunning subversion of the genre? I kind of think maybe it tried to be but Grossman ended up taking himself too seriously for that.
I was not exaggerating when I called Quentin unlikable. I won't dwell on this overly much, but he is determined to be unhappy, and feels no real remorse for anything whatsoever until the very, very end of the book. In fact, in life according to Quentin it is the world's fault for not being awesomer and other people's fault for whatever bad things that he himself did.
I did generally enjoy Grossman's writing. At points, I was taken aback by his way with words, such as when he says "The little girl's hooded eyes expressed a precocious acquaintance with adversity" or during some of his better crafted similes.
Furthermore, in Alice, Quentin's love interest for much of the book, Grossman creates a superb and nuanced character, the moreso because you only figure her out slowly, coming to gradually understand her depths.
I'd recommend this to anyone who doesn't mind a dark book whose characters struggle with morality, anyone who thinks they might be able to read it as a satire, anyone who wants to explore the dark side of the magical, or anyone who loves a good simile ;)