If you like: magic * quests * monotony
The Magicians is the story of Quentin, a teenage boy who discovers he has a magical aptitude and attends a secretive magical post-secondary school. This is not another Harry Potter story. You will not find a clear antagonist in The Magicians. The story does not end with Quentin’s schooling, but continues as he moves into the real world and beyond.
More than anything, The Magicians is about the difficulty of finding a place and satisfaction in the monotony of real life. Quentin spent his whole life searching for the secret that would make him happy. When he first discovers Brakebills, he thinks that magic will be enough. When he graduates and enjoys a life of luxury, he still can’t find what he has been searching for. Even after he does the impossible and finds the magical fantasy land of his favorite childhood book series, Quentin is not happy and continues to feel empty. This is not a story about magic as much as an allegory for what every person learns as he or she gets older. People spend their youth preparing for college and a job, only to think, “This is it?” People never stop searching for the next big thing to help them feel fulfilled. Quentin continues to focus on what is lacking instead of all the power and abilities that he has.
The Magicians is a very unusual book. Though there are conflicts and obstacles to be overcome, the story doesn’t contain an obvious goal throughout. Finding Fillory and defeating The Beast are both important to the story, but they are not the story. Unlike many other magical fantasy stories, Grossman doesn’t work to enchant the reader. In the same way that money can’t buy happiness, magic cannot create it. There is no panacea for what is missing. If you choose misery, you will excel at it. Waiting for a circumstance to make you happy will mar even the most incredible experience. The search for purpose throughout The Magicians is compelling. Seeing where the mystical leads, and that things don’t always work out for the best, create a rare and enjoyable story.
If you are chasing after something that is just out of reach, read The Magicians.
Grossman, Lev. The Magicians. New York: Viking, 2009. Kindle Edition.