The Magicians

by Lev Grossman

Rating: ★★★

As of Book 1, this is mildly entertaining but mostly skippable fantasy. The background is an underdeveloped mashup of Harry Potter and Narnia, with a magic system which would've been interesting if we were shown any decent amount of it. Unusually for this sort of setting, it is the characters which carry the story, with the very believable Quentin acting as the centrepiece of a cast of realistically flawed personalities. The nods towards realism in the plot are appreciated, but the book takes a bit too long to become interesting and even at its peak it somehow fails to become gripping. The overt references to Harry Potter are painful, the thinly-veiled ones to Narnia are not much better. Light, breezy, an acceptable replacement for trying to find something to watch on Netflix.

Book 2, well, I think Grossman was trying to reach higher with the plot elements. Rather than a visceral personal-level threat like Martin, we're lead on a trace of apparently pointless quests which end up tying in to a multiverse-wide threat to the whole premise of the series. It's not really clear why this is set up, however, as it is rather swiftly demolished by the straightforward application of the stumbling quest logic that the protagonists were already aimlessly following. The whole thing smacked of overreach, and Grossman seems to have mostly left aside the character development which marked the first novel, with Quentin stuck in a dull loop of spontaneous action, desiring whatever he doesn't have, and occasionally noticing this. We did see a bit of character study in the background of Julia, but this didn't mesh very well with the rest of the book, and the two plausibly-interesting stories jarred against each others' style.

The end of the trilogy picked up a little in terms of cohesion, with Grossman following a number of different characters as the plot demanded rather than needing to divide the book into a duet or trio. The overall thrust of the series, meshing reality with Narnia, makes a little more sense, though I can't say I really admire the worldbuilding. Quentin has grown as a character, almost off-screen, and we get to see him handle a number of interactions -- most notably Alice -- with a maturity that was missing from the earlier books. Our other gang members show similar signs of growing up. Still not really good, the series manages to end itself at the level of the first book. Readable, but skippable fantasy, with little effort in the worldbuilding but some good characters.