The Magicians (Grossman novel)

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The Magicians
Cover of The Magicians
Author Lev Grossman
Country United States
Language English
Genre Contemporary fantasy/High fantasy/Parallel universe
Publisher Viking/Penguin Books
Publication date
Media type Print
Pages 402 pp (first edition)
ISBN 978-0-670-02055-3
LC Class PS3557.R6725 M34
Followed by The Magician King

The Magicians is a fantasy novel by the American author Lev Grossman, published in 2009 by Viking Press. It tells the story of Quentin Coldwater, a young man who discovers and attends a college of magic in New York.

The novel received critical acclaim, and was followed by The Magician King (2011)[1][2] and The Magician's Land (2014). It is to be adapted as a television series by SyFy.


The book follows Quentin Coldwater, a high-school student from Brooklyn with far above-average intelligence and below-average social skills, as he is accepted to Brakebills Academy, an exclusive (and secret) college for magicians, where he finds that the realization of his fantasy does not mean the resolution of all his problems; he must deal with his own sullenness, anti-social behavior, and self-centeredness while dealing with his peers' similar issues. Magic, it turns out, is boring and tedious to learn.

Quentin enters a community garden and finds himself in Upstate New York. He does not know what is going on, but finds approximately 200 other teenagers there as well. They are given an exam but not told why or what it is for, and students who don't pass simply vanish. Quentin is one of only two students who passes, and later finds that there are only 20 students per class. As magic in the book is highly correlated to intelligence, all of his peers are brilliant and tend to regard each other as competition. Even in this setting Quentin stands out, and he and two peers are offered the chance to advance a year if they can pass the exams. Quentin and one of the peers pass, and he is assaulted by the student who fails.

During one class, a strange otherworldly horror enters Brakebills and eats a student before being driven back to wherever it came from. The creature becomes known as The Beast. Quentin and his crush, Alice, are placed in The Physical Kids, a group of student magicians whose magical discipline involves manipulation of physical forces. There, they become friends with cynical older students Eliot and Janet, and happier and better-adjusted Josh. Although Quentin and Alice had been presumed to be a couple by many since they skipped a year together, in fact they finally get together during a semester abroad at a satellite campus in Antarctica where students have to focus on the most difficult aspects of magical scholarship with absolutely no outside distractions.

Upon graduation, Quentin and the other Physical Kids spend their days and nights in hedonistic pursuits, apparently a common theme for magicians who have it very easy in this world. While still looking for a purpose, Quentin discovers that Fillory, a fanciful land featured in books he read as a child, is real. He and his friends travel there, and discover that the books – which tell the story of the Chatwin children, who pass through various portals to and from Fillory on their adventures – are based on true stories, and not the fantasy tales the world believes them to be.

The group finds magical wonders in Fillory, but they eventually discover The Beast, who is revealed to be Martin Chatwin. The eldest child from the Fillory books sacrificed his humanity in order to stay in the magical world forever. After a brutal fight, Alice sacrifices herself to kill Martin, Penny loses both of his hands and chooses to remain in the empty city between the worlds, and a gravely injured Quentin is left to the care of a group of centaurs when the others fear that he will never awaken from his coma. Upon awakening, Quentin becomes depressed and disillusioned, especially when Jane, the youngest Chatwin, reveals herself to have been pulling the strings throughout her siblings' and Quentin's stories. She had used a magical time-traveling device to try again and again to kill Martin, finally succeeding via Quentin and his friends. Quentin leaves Fillory after some time and, via connections in the magical community, takes a high-paying (and non-magical) job in an investment firm where he spends his time playing video games. The book ends with Quentin eternally unsatisfied with his lot, returning to Fillory with Eliot, Janet and Julia (a high school friend who had independently learned magic on her own outside of Brakebills) in the hope of finally finding something fulfilling.

Major characters[edit]

  • Quentin Makepeace Coldwater[3] – The novel's protagonist. When the novel begins, he is living in Brooklyn and preparing to enter college. After he passes a test to prove he has the potential to become a magician, he is recruited by Brakebills, an elite college of magic in upstate New York. Quentin has long been a fan of the "Fillory and Further" book series and yearns to fill his life with the same adventures found in those books and the simple happiness it produced. He studies with the Physical Kids (Eliot, Josh, Janet, and Alice) at Brakebills. He never seems to be satisfied with what he has and is often willfully ignorant of others' feelings. This leads him to grow apart from his parents and seek solace in magic, but magic is not as easy as he expected and isolates himself from the school with Alice and the Physicals. His depressed isolation and his self-centeredness leads to unsocial behavior and eventually drugs.
  • Alice Quinn – A talented and natural magician whom Quentin meets while attending Brakebills. They are in the same year, and they study the same discipline once their specialty areas are decided. She lives with Quentin, Eliot, Josh, and Janet while at Brakebills and later in New York, following graduation. She grew up in a family of magicians, and her parents are shown to be flighty nearly to the point of neglect. She is initially extremely reserved, but opens up when she is placed with Quentin in the Physical Magic group. She and Quentin eventually develop a relationship. It is revealed early in the book that her brother died, and that she herself, despite her clear talent, was not invited to take the exam for Brakebills. She ran away from home and managed to locate the school herself, which was supposed to be impossible. She is shown as being far more talented than even her closest peers, and it is eventually revealed that the reason she was not invited to the school was that her brother had died there, and the school wanted to make sure that nothing happened to her.
  • Eliot Waugh – A talented magician, perhaps the most natural at Brakebills, in the Physical Magic group. Eliot's sexuality is a minor plot point throughout the novel, as is his dependence on alcohol. He is particularly keen on esoteric wines. He is seen to be the unofficial leader of the group of five (along with Quentin, Alice, Josh, and Janet) throughout the novel. He, Janet, and Josh are a couple years older than Quentin and Alice. He has proven to be serious when something interests him but acts out when he has no skin in the game.
  • Josh Hoberman – The overweight jokester-slacker of the Physical Magic group, Josh offers much of the novel's comic relief. He is likely the least natural in his skills, but he also flirts with an untapped power throughout. He struggles with his studies but excels at socialization. He grows close to Anaïs during the course of the novel.
  • Janet – Another student in the Physical Magic group. The party animal of the group, Janet seems to be attached at the hip to Eliot. Janet is portrayed as both deeply insecure and surprisingly strong. She is outspoken and sometimes causes controversy, but she is also fiercely loyal. She is called "Janet Way" by another student in the first book, but "Janet Pluchinsky" by Dean Fogg in the second.
  • Penny (William) – A student who enters Brakebills with Alice and Quentin. He is shown to be one of the three most adept magicians in that year, and goes on to study archaic and untested magic. He proves the existence of Fillory and finds passage to it. He is rebellious, jealous and has a terrible temper. Although he and Quentin become friends soon after joining, he later grows to prefer the company of himself over others and even spends an entire semester's time in an empty parallel universe.


The review by The A.V. Club gave the novel an "A", calling it "the best urban fantasy in years, a sad dream of what it means to want something badly and never fully reach it."[4] The New York Times review said the book "could crudely be labeled a Harry Potter for adults", injecting "mature themes" into fantasy literature.[5]

TV adaptation[edit]

In 2011, Fox optioned but eventually declined to order a television adaptation of The Magicians. In July 2014, SyFy greenlit the production of a pilot episode,[6] and ordered a 12 episode first season in May 2015.[7]

The SyFy series is to be written by John McNamara and Sera Gamble, and produced by Michael London and Janice Williams.[6] The pilot episode is to be directed by Mike Cahill, and the cast is to include Jason Ralph as Quentin, Sosie Bacon as Alice,[8] Hale Appleman as Eliot, Summer Bishil as Margo Hanson (renamed from Janet Pluchinsky in the novel),[9] Arjun Gupta as Penny, Stella Maeve as Julia, and Rick Worthy as Dean Fogg.[7][10]


  1. ^ Deahl, Rachel (January 11, 2010). "Viking Re-ups Grossman". Publisher's Weekly. 
  2. ^ The Magician King at Lev Grossman's website
  3. ^ Grossman, Lev. The Magician King. Chapter 12. p. 293. 
  4. ^ VanDerWerff, Todd (August 8, 2009). "The Magicians". The A.V. Club. Retrieved May 16, 2009. 
  5. ^ Agger, Michael (September 8, 2009). "Abracadabra Angst". The New York Times. Retrieved May 16, 2010. 
  6. ^ a b Agard, Chancellor (10 July 2014). "Syfy greenlights pilot based on Lev Grossman's 'The Magicians'". Entertainment Weekly. Retrieved 13 July 2014. 
  7. ^ a b Bell, Crystal (5 May 2015). "‘The Magicians’ Is The Grown-Up ‘Harry Potter’ You’ve Always Wanted". MTV. Retrieved 13 May 2015. 
  8. ^ Syfy’s ‘Magicians’ Adaptation Casts Jason Ralph and Sosie Bacon in Lead Roles
  9. ^ Noonan, Kevin (8 December 2014). "Syfy's 'The Magicians' adds 'Towelhead' star Summer Bishil". Retrieved 8 December 2014.
  10. ^ Zuckerman, Esther (6 November 2014). "Syfy's 'The Magicians' series casts three roles". Retrieved 6 November 2014. 

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