Saturday, May 21, 2016

Evil Eva Reviews... The Magicians

EvilEva reviews ...... The Magicians by Lev Grossman.

Dissecting The Cover:

I don't really understand this cover. I guess it's supposed to represent the tree that Quentin magicked into being at the end of the book? No spoiler alert needed there as said scene with said tree is of no real importance to the story. Which makes it a fairly odd choice to use such a throw-away scene as "cover material."
A more accurate cover would feature a gaggle of melancholy teens, smoking and drinking and looking completely bored with their trivial, pedestrian lives.
This cover, however, with its copse of tranquil trees and its serene little stream looks better suited for a brochure for a mental health facility.
You know, on second thought, maybe this is the perfect cover choice after all!

Let's Review:

Quentin Coldwater is perfectly bored with his perfectly planned life. Everything is laid out before him, opportunities well within his grasp.
Yet while trudging through the drudgery of everyday life, Quentin longs for something more. Silly as it seems, he can't help but dream of the fantastical, fictional world of Fillory, a magical land from the pages of his favorite childhood stories.
The books brimmed with strange creatures, daring escapes, perilous journeys.
Quentin's life of college interviews, clueless parents and unrequited love seems spectacularly lackluster by comparison.
So when a way out suddenly presents itself, Quentin jumps at the chance to finally embark on an adventure of his own.
It begins when a simple piece of paper leads him to the discovery of a lifetime. Magic is real!
It exists within the walls of an exclusive college, hidden away in upstate New York where only a chosen few possess the ability to find it.
Quentin is one of those few.
At Brakebills College for Magical Pedagogy, Quentin will be taught the principles of magic and learn what it takes to become a true magician.
It's exactly the kind of excitement he's been searching for!
Little does Quentin know, it could also lead him to the very thing he's been so desperate to find--- a way in to Fillory.
With the help of his friends and his newly acquired skills, Quentin sets off on the ultimate quest: the pursuit of all that he desired from his past and everything he could ever imagine for his future.

Here's What I Think:

I really have to hand it to myself, I made this book sound totally readable in the Let's Review section. However, the truth of the matter is, I hated this book. And I don't mean in an "aw I really wanted to like it but I didn't. what a bummer" kind of way. I'm talking about a "rip the spine right down the middle, hurl the thing across the room, salt and burn the earth where it lands" level of hatred. Which is kind of crazy because it had so much potential.
It's been touted by other reviewers as an adult version of Harry Potter.
It received raves from George R. R. Martin and John Green (authors I actually like.) 
And after reading a sample of the first chapter I myself was intrigued enough to give it a try. A decision I quickly regretted.
So where did it all go wrong?
Well, there was the plot, the pacing, the characters, the dialogue, the lack of actual magic. I could go on. And I will!
Behold my list of grievances!

Grievance #1.
I'll start with the fact that I don't know what to call this thing. I mean, I do----
piece of shit
waste of time
boredom personified.
But as far as genre goes, I don't really know where to put it.
I mean, this book is seriously all over the place, leading me to believe that Mr. Grossman suffers from what I have coined Distracted Dug Syndrome.
Distracted Dug Syndrome, or DDS as it is more commonly known, is a condition in which a person (such as the aforementioned author) is focused on their work, chugging along, getting shit done when all of a sudden SQUIRREL!

They become distracted, lose their train of thought and then hitch that train to a wholly different caboose only to have it chug off in a completely different direction than the one it was originally pointed in.
It is my professional opinion that this was the case with The Magicians.
For instance, chapter 1 finds Quentin discovering a dead body.
We don't know who this corpse is or how he died or what this means for Quentin. Ah, so obviously a mystery is afoot, right?
Wrong! This poor unfortunate soul gets maybe four pages in which we learn nothing about him, nothing is resolved as far as he (whoever he might be) is concerned and I guess it's a good thing Quentin wasn't particularly traumatized by this event because we never hear about it again. And all of a sudden the story devolves into something completely different.
As I said--- SQUIRREL!
Now Quentin is attending a secret, exclusive Hogwarts-esque magic school. Well, this book is called The Magicians so I guess that makes more sense than a possible murder mystery. Alright. I'll roll with it.
I will admit that Mr. Grossman spent a little more time ripping off Harry Potter than he did with that half-assed whodunit. However, it's not long before--- SQUIRREL!
And suddenly we're dumped in some sort of low budget Narnia. So..... wait..... now it's a fantasy novel? I am so confused. But, like I said, I can roll with this. I like lions. I like witches. I like wardrobes. Let's end this thing on a high note! Let's vanquish evil and save Fillory! Who's with me!
Goddammit!!!! Now it's a coming-of-age story!?!? Now we're "learning lessons?" "Growing up?" "Gaining insight?"
What the fuck am I reading!?!?
I mean, don't get me wrong, I'm all for genres colliding. I like a good supernatural mystery. A historical romance. A supernatural romance. A historical mystery. A comedic drama. A dramatic comedy. Hell, I'll take a historical, romantic, mysterious, supernatural, comedic, dramatic, sci-fi, fantasy, horror, coming-of-age story. As long as it's done well.  As long as the transitions between genres are seamless and everything comes together and makes sense in the end.
Unfortunately that didn't happen here. And I think the whole genre confusion is ultimately what lead to such a disjointed plot. Also known as...

Grievances #2.
The best way I can think of to describe the plot would be if the author grabbed several books from his shelf at random, stuffed them in a blender, hit puree, dumped the whole big mess on to paper and named it The Magicians.
Like I said, the story is just all over the place.
It begins in Brooklyn where Quentin fantasizes about being anywhere else. Then there's a death, an odd paramedic, and a folder with Quentin's name on it which leads him to this mysterious estate in upstate New York which turns out to be a magic school called Brakebills College for Magical Pedagogy. So Quentin takes a test, passes, and is allowed to attend this magic school. Which he does until he's whisked away to Brakebills South in Antarctica, then it's back to the regular Brakebills where Quentin promptly graduates somehow even though we never really read about him actually going to classes or doing homework or taking tests. It should be noted here that all of this has been crammed into part 1 of this book. There are still three parts left in which Quentin flees to Manhattan where he discovers that Fillory, a magical Narnia-esque place he thought only existed in the pages of his favorite childhood book series, actually exists in real life and he can actually go there. But first he has to travel through the Neitherlands which is like a giant portal-possessing waiting room and THEN he finally gets to Fillory only to find it's not what he thought it would be so he goes back to NYC where he works for some account team.
I know. What!? The actual!? FUCK!?!?
And that's not all. Not only does the story bounce around from place to place, but storylines are constantly introduced only to invariably be dropped and replaced by a whole new storyline that has absolutely NOTHING to do with the first one only to then have the original storyline reappear some 200 pages later with a "resolution" that seems thrown in as an afterthought.
Like, Oh, by the way, this is what happened to Alice's brother, and this is why Professor Mayakovsky was banished to Antarctica and oh yeah, remember that Beast fella from chapter 8 well it's actually [redacted]
But none of these come as big reveals or jaw-dropping revelations. Instead they land with a hollow THUNK! because any kind of interest you might have invested in the answer died a slow painful death long ago.
There are just too many ideas and not enough follow through which makes the plot a confusing mess which ultimately aids in the fuck-upping of other aspects of the story, like the pacing. Or as it shall henceforth be known...

Grievance #3.
The pacing is unbelievably haphazard, making the timeline practically impossible to follow. One day can drag on for a whole chapter while an entire year is gone within the span of a couple of sentences. And these time jumps aren't used to propel the story forward. They just seem thrown in (like everything else in this book) for no reason.
It doesn't keep the reader on their toes, it confuses them to the point that they're forced to flip back however many pages it takes to figure out what fucking day it is and how much fucking time has passed. It's especially frustrating when the parts of the story that could have potential, like the magic classes and the ins and outs of Fillory, are rushed through and summarized quickly. While the parts that are boring and offer no real relevance to the story, like the inane game of Welters that wants so badly to be Quidditch and what it's like being a fucking goose, have paragraphs upon paragraphs of mind-numbing prattle devoted to them.
At times it can make getting through the book really hard. It's like wading through raw sewage with waders on. Or slogging through a shitstorm with a faulty umbrella. 
Although no matter how bothersome and tedious the pacing might seem it is nothing compared to big fat....

Grievances #4.
Which is the characters. It is a rare book indeed when you can find absolutely NO character that you like/relate to/root for. But, lo and behold The Magicians is that rare book.
The "hero" of our story is Quentin Coldwater. And the best word I can think of to use to describe him is insufferable. Completely and utterly insufferable. He does nothing but whine and complain and blame everything and everyone for his "problems" when really the only "problem" he seems to suffer from is being a pathetic little bitch. He literally gets everything he wants and he's still not happy. I mean, he basically gets accepted to Hogwarts, finds a girlfriend that loves him despite his awful personality, journeys to Narnia, defeats an evil monster, gets handed a crown, a kingdom, and a high paying job at which he doesn't even have to do any actual work and all he can muster is boredom, self-pity, and mild depression.
Basically you spend the whole book wanting to punch him in the throat and coming up with colorful little nicknames for him like Harry Twatter.
And I know what you're thinking, what about the other characters? Surely there's at least one that you're happy to see appear on the page. No. There's not. The rest of the characters are just as terrible.  Probably because they're all more or less the same person. Every character in this book (their names really don't even matter) is pretty much interchangeable. No one has an individual voice or any kind of distinguishing qualities to differentiate them from the next loser. It's just hipster douches as far as the eye can see.
And they're all so "brilliant" and so "gifted" and so disgustingly underwhelmed that they've been hand-picked to attend this secret university that teaches MAGIC!
Ugh! They all act so blasé and above it all. Like it's no big deal that they basically MADE IT TO HOGWARTS! And who even cares that they get to use REAL MOTHERFUCKING MAGIC!
It made me want to go full Voldemort on these ungrateful brats! I was seriously more invested in thinking about what I could use as my own Horcruxes so that this plan may come to fruition than I was with reaching the end of this book and finding out what happens to these boring entitled shitheads.
Now, you  might be thinking, well certainly with Quentin and Co. starting out as the human equivalent of hot garbage those 402 pages should afford them plenty of opportunities to reform, evolve and become decent non-garbage people, right? No, you stupid optimist.
These characters end exactly as they began. Immature, stunted, self-centered and miserable. Or as I said before, completely and utterly insufferable. Seriously. They should just rename this book Hipsters Hate Adventures. Or The Chronicles of Nothing: The Lion, The Witch and The Whatever. Or Harry Potter and the Too-Cool-For-Magic-School Classmates. Any one of these titles would be acceptable as they all succinctly describe the character's perpetual flippancy. They also happen to accurately describe the story between the pages of this book far better than the actual title does. Because after reading it, you know the characters are douchebags, you're not so sure however if they are actually magicians. Which leads me to the final and possibly gravest of grievances.

Grievances #5.
Where exactly is the magic!?!?!?
I mean, the book is called The MAGICIANS, there is a MAGIC school where they teach MAGIC to students who want to become MAGICIANS but there are no spells cast, no potions made, no charms used, no curses uttered. And no explanation is ever given for how any of this works. Apparently we don't need to know the mechanics involved with levitating a marble or bending light or flying to the fucking moon! All we need to know is that it can be done and we call this magic. Which is basically what one of the professors at this "prestigious college" says to his impressionable students:

"In any case, we do not and cannot understand what magic is, or where it comes from any more than a carpenter understands why a tree grows. he doesn't have to know. He works with what he has."

If that's the case, then why exactly do they need to attend these classes? Why does a magic school even need to exist?
It's like an English Lit professor saying you don't have to know how to read in order to understand literature.
It's an easy out. And in taking it, Grossman completely misses out on any opportunity to fully engage his reader by providing details that could set his story apart from others like it.
I mean, this is fantasy. You have the keys to the kingdom. You can create worlds and languages and creatures. You can make the impossible possible, the unbelievable believable, transform the ordinary into the extraordinary.
So just saying magic is magic because it's magic seems like a cop out, not to mention a total insult to the reader.
Although, I'm really not at all surprised to feel underwhelmed by this book yet again. It was pretty much my permanent state while reading it. I mean, I've already dealt with sloppy writing, dropped storylines and forgotten characters so the fact that this magic school ended up being less than magical seems like par for the motherfucking course.
In fact, I'm fairly certain the only real magic involved here is how my interest in this stupid story -POOF!- disappeared. I guess this was a rather long way of telling you what I actually already told you at the very beginning of this review/rant, which is I HATED this book.
For me, The Magicians was like a Dementor from that other far superior fantasy series, it just sucks your soul right out of you. So if you'll excuse me, I'm going to go find a piece of chocolate, lie down and try my best to recover.

Swoony Times:

This is not a swoony book. There are no sexy times. I mean, there is sex but it is definitely NOT sexy. Unless people transforming into foxes and fucking is your thing. If so, there is that in this book. Also, on a sidenote, you might want to consider some kind of psychiatric help as an affinity for fox-fucking is a pretty weird affinity to have.
Anyhoo, I'm fairly certain the reason for such an abysmal showing of the swoons is entirely thanks to Quentin and his nonexistent personality. Being that he is such a whiny, angsty, entitled turd of a person, it's really no surprise that he has pretty much zero chemistry with anyone he comes into contact with. But I suppose one could say he has the most least chemistry with Alice. Or the least most chemistry? I don't know. However you want to phrase it, Quentin and Alice are the "romantic leads" of the story. I have used quotation marks here as Quentin and Alice's "romance" is in no way "romantic."
Their relationship feels completely forced. Like they've stuck together strictly because Quentin happens to be the main character and the main character obviously needs to have a love interest and because Alice.....
Well, I don't exactly know why Alice feels the need to be saddled with Quentin. She could do so much better than this wretched little weenie. Well maybe not so much better because honestly there is nary a swoonworthy boy to be found in this book.
But literally anyone would be an improvement over Quentin. Seriously. It is so hard for me to believe that anyone would be interested in Quentin AT ALL much less in a "let's take off all our clothes and hug with our genitals" type of way.
In fact, it is at this point in the story where I had to suspend my disbelief the most.
There's a wizarding school in New York, you say? Sounds legit.
A magical land from a fictional book actually exists? Perfectly feasible.
Teenagers turn into geese and fly to Antarctica? Highly logical, Mr. Spock.
But are you really trying to tell me that there is someone out there that finds Quentin to be suitable boyfriend material!?!?!
Surely you jest, sir.

Bonus Shizz:

Magic School!
As someone who has read the Harry Potter books and watched the Harry Potter movies and obsessed over the Harry Potter universe (and as someone who is both living and breathing) obviously my ultimate goal in life is to attend Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry!
I'm actually still anxiously awaiting my letter of acceptance. It should be here any day now.
But in the meantime I thought I would check out Brakebills College for Magical Pedagogy, and let me just say, it's less expecto patronum, more expecto disappointment.
See, Hogwarts is like an illustrious ivy league while Brakebills is your safety school. You're almost guaranteed an easy in but you don't really want to go there.
So even though there are few things that tickle my fancy quite like a magic school, this one just wasn't for me.
*sighs* Maybe I'll take a year off instead. To find myself....
or Narnia!

Book Lovers!
I love when characters in books LOVE books. It's like meeting a kindred spirit. And despite his many flaws that irritated the ever-loving fuck out of me, Quentin's unwavering obsession with his favorite book series was something I could actually relate to.
Getting lost in another world, finding hope and redemption in a character, believing wholeheartedly in something that can't be done, envisioning yourself somewhere far better than where you  are. The knowledge that you can relive it all in one afternoon, snuggled in your coziest nook by simply turning a page is, in itself, true magic. Because as every book lover knows, a good story never lets you go.

Mix Tape:

If this book had a soundtrack.....

If You Liked That, Try This:

*The Harry Potter series by J.K. Rowling.
*The Chronicles of Narnia series by C.S. Lewis.

The Scale of Judgment Says:

Zero points for Mr. Grossman!

The truth is, I hated this book so much that I'm going to award it The Blaine Edwards and Antoine Merriweather Seal Of Disapproval. Also known as.....

Which I will be presenting to any book that scores a 1 Nancy rating on The Scale of Judgment from this review on!