Three of the six reviews on the back of Lev Grossman’s The Magicians compare the novel to the Harry Potter series—but with a big, disillusioned, grownup kick. The similarities begin and end with the facts that both feature a school of magic, a male protagonist, and are really engrossing books.
Grossman’s main character, Quentin Coldwater, is just as nerdy and bizarre as his name suggests. Quentin is a high school senior who is mildly obsessed with a children’s series reminiscent of the Chronicles of Narnia, with a genius IQ and a passion for card tricks. One day, Quentin stumbles through an alley in New York City to find himself about to take an entrance test for Brakebills College of Magical Pedagogy, in upstate New York. As he receives his college education in a way that is in some ways typical and in some ways completely out of the ordinary (in his fourth year, he is transformed into a goose to fly to Antarctica for some concentrated study), he finds himself still just as unfulfilled as he was before learning about the existence of magic. After graduation, Quentin and his friends wander aimlessly through New York City, wondering what to do with their lives (as all young sorcerers surely wonder) until they make a discovery that literally takes them to a new world.
Reading The Magicians was an odd experience for a devoted Harry Potter fan like me. You expect a certain type of book when you’ve grown up on Hogwarts, but this was certainly different. Make no mistake: this is an adult novel. Even though I was initially a bit taken aback by The Magicians, I very much enjoyed reading it. Grossman is a fantastic writer and although the characters are less likeable than Harry and the gang, they also have much more depth and a realism that was appealing to me. Somehow I found this version of magic school to be much more believable, at least until the plot twist about halfway through. I highly recommend this book, as well as its sequel, The Magician King.