I watched all of season one of The Magicians on SyFy (it took me three tries to get that right) and after the first episode ordered the e-book from the library. A number of other people had the same idea because I just got a chance to read it.
First, people who’ve read the book and people who’ve seen the show are going to have different ideas about plot and character. The show kept what it liked and discarded what it didn’t (that’s not a criticism–I’m all for adaptation to the medium!). It does make for bad guessing if you’re going from one to the other.
Second, the book (and according to the reviews I read about the show at the AV club) has some odd pacing. The protagonist, Quentin Coldwater (great name, by the way), gets accepted to a magical school, Brakebills. Now, if you’ve read Harry Potter, each year of Hogwarts gets a full book. Here, the four years are all covered in one book (and WAY more besides). Since I found Brakebills and the world of magic there interesting, I would have liked to have spent more time there, but that’s a matter of taste.
Then the book takes an odd turn after graduation. There’s a largish section that doesn’t seem to have a reason for being (but I was reminded of the Underworld part of the heroic cycle if you’ve read Joseph Campbell). I’m sure that the author had more than one reason to include it, but it was not my favorite part.
Throughout the book (and especially the part in Fillory), Grossman does an excellent job of showing just how difficult learning magic or adventuring in a fantasy world would be. Quentin has blisters and scars from everything he does and, boy, does he earn them. This is something that’s skipped over by a lot of fantasy books, and I really appreciated it–and the REALLY thoughtful world-building that’s on display.
Another thing I appreciated were the frequent touches of humor and the really fine lines throughout–anytime I have to stop and read lines out loud, that indicates some really fine writing.
After reading some other reviews, I can see that some people didn’t pick up on a characteristic of Quentin’s–he’s obviously depressed (and doesn’t become miraculously cured when he gets to Brakebills, thank you Mr. Grossman). He has better days and bad days (and a few awful days) which was all quite realistic. Some of the reviews that I read thought that he was spoiled, self-centered, sullen or overly snarky, but if you’ve never been depressed it might very well come off as one of those things. A depressed person’s brain is not a pleasant place.
Despite the occasional plot pacing issue, I quite enjoyed this book.
There are two more books in the trilogy, and I’m already signed up for the next. Have you read The Magicians? What did you think?