When books make me mad: The Magicians

I dove into this book with the fervor and excitement of a kid reading Harry Potter for the first time. So many people, articles, and websites had recommended this book to me: saying it was “Harry Potter meets The Secret History”.
Well, in hindsight, that probably set me up for disappointment; but nonetheless, I was excited.

The first half was good, a precocious urban ennui, Quentin Coldwater, who is just about to finish high-school feels lost in his life and has a deep set feeling that there has to be more magic in life than this. Turns out there is, and he is whisked off to endure a grueling entrance examination to the prestigious magical university: Brakebills Academy. Unsurprisingly he is accepted and his time at Brakebills begins.

There is so much potential for this premise! Magical pedagogy is the perfect springboard for adventures and intrigue. But no, Quentin has a few (undeveloped) escapades and meets some intriguing people, and then he suddenly graduates half way through the book! So many opportunities missed. Thanks Mr Grossman.

But it was halfway though the book that my disappointment turned to anger, then turned to rage, and by the end I was few pages short of throwing the book across the room.

If it was written well, all of the blatantly obvious references to The Secret History and fantasy literature (Harry Potter and Narnia in particular) would have been forgiven as they could be passed as homage or intertextuality. But the writing is so terrible (has anyone heard of an editor?), it came across as blatant freebooting.

A magical land visited by four English children (where only human children can sit on the four thrones)?
A wizard’s school?
A hunt for a white stag?
A group of precocious and bored university students drinking themselves to death?
Drunken orgies in the woods?
A time-turner disguised as a pocket watch?
A form of wizard chess?
A world-between-the-worlds with ponds to jump into?
Seriously – are Donna Tartt, the C.S. Lewis Estate, and J.K. Rowling getting any royalties from this?

There is appropriation, and then there is plagiarism. Sadly, The Magicians is guilty of the latter.

And lets not forget the worst line in the book: “Of course it matters, Vix,” Quentin said. “It’s not like they’re all the same.” “Vix” was a term of endearment with them, short for vixen, an allusion to their Antarctic interlude, vixen being the word for a female fox.

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