audiobooks Fantasy

The Magician’s Land (Book Thoughts) by Lev Grossman

It didn’t matter where you were, if you were in a room full of books you were at least halfway home

This series is a modern fantasy favorite of mine. The trilogy only got stronger as it went and I think the ending was perfect.  I don’t know what else I can say after two books – Grossman has an easy to enjoy writing style, complicated character arcs, interesting and master level magic, and a story that just kept building.

Bookish Quick Facts:

  • Title: The Magician’s Land
  • Series: The Magicians #3
  • Author: Lev Grossman
  • Publisher & Release: Viking, 2014
  • Length: 416 pages
  • Rate & Recommend: ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐ for how it ended

Here is the synopsis (spoiler free thankfully): 

Quentin Coldwater has been cast out of Fillory, the secret magical land of his childhood dreams. With nothing left to lose he returns to where his story began, the Brakebills Preparatory College of Magic. But he can’t hide from his past, and it’s not long before it comes looking for him.

Along with Plum, a brilliant young undergraduate with a dark secret of her own, Quentin sets out on a crooked path through a magical demimonde of gray magic and desperate characters. But all roads lead back to Fillory, and his new life takes him to old haunts, like Antarctica, and to buried secrets and old friends he thought were lost forever. He uncovers the key to a sorcery masterwork, a spell that could create magical utopia, a new Fillory—but casting it will set in motion a chain of events that will bring Earth and Fillory crashing together. To save them he will have to risk sacrificing everything.

It’s the story of a boy becoming a man, an apprentice becoming a master, and a broken land finally becoming whole.

As a glasses smudging 30something who is still working on career satisfaction and figuring out how to do the life thing, I think Quentin gets super relatable in this book

I love books where the characters are 30 somethings. You never know who’s going to end up married with kids, who is going to flourish or flounder or even end up dead.  The four main characters (and Alice) finally grew into their roles and realize/figure out who they are and what they are capable of.

I liked Quentin as a professor, and how he was able to work with Plum and kind of get her on the right track/guide her through the post Brakebills disaster.  Plum was a good addition to this book – she brought some youth and wit and new blood into the mix.  I actually liked Umber more than Ember and enjoyed those scenes a lot.  All the characters grew up and Quentin found his hope again at the end – what more could we ask for.

I do wish there had been a little more closure for Janet & Elliot, but they will be ok. The kings and queens have a ton of work to do. Their chapters were some of the best in the book.

The Quentin/Alice ending was perfect – the moral is that life goes on. Seeing them content was everything.

Other than the quote up top, here were two others that stuck out to me.  There were tons of funny one liners but hear these:

“Fuck love, fuck marriage, fuck children, fuck fucking itself: this was his romance, this fantasy land at whose helm he sat, steering it on and on into the future, world without end, until he died and tastefully idealized statues were made of him.” – that was Elliot having his moment

“Magic was wild feelings, the kind that escaped out of you and into the world and changed things. There was a lot of skill to it, and a lot of learning, and a lot of work, but that was where the power began: the power to enchant the world.”
– I’m so happy that Q figured things out. Remember that he was always searching for external happiness, never realizing what he held inside? 

I know the trilogy has mixed reviews but I do think that people around my age (30s), the HP generation, will enjoy these books.  Don’t compare the books to anything else, just enjoy the series for what it is.  I know there are tons of changes but I’m interested in finishing the TV show too

**I don’t have much to add about the audiobooks but Mark Bramhall really did a good job bringing the stories and characters to life.  Would definitely recommend for audio fans or if the text seems dry**

audiobooks Fantasy Fiction

The Magician King (book thoughts) by Lev Grossman

Well I definitely couldn’t stop reading at the end of The Magicians, so here are my thoughts on The Magician King! So many series have a second book slump and I was absolutely floored that this sequel was even better than the first.

Bookish Quick Facts:

  • Title: The Magician King
  • Series: The Magicians, #2
  • Author: Lev Grossman
  • Publisher & Release: Viking, August 2011
  • Length: 416 pages
  • Rate & Recommend: ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐ yes for fans of modern/contemporary fantasy

Here’s the synopsis from GoodReads:

The Magicians was praised as a triumph by readers and critics of both mainstream and fantasy literature. Now Grossman takes us back to Fillory, where the Brakebills graduates have fled the sorrows of the mundane world, only to face terrifying new challenges.

Quentin and his friends are now the kings and queens of Fillory, but the days and nights of royal luxury are starting to pall. After a morning hunt takes a sinister turn, Quentin and his old friend Julia charter a magical sailing ship and set out on an errand to the wild outer reaches of their kingdom. Their pleasure cruise becomes an adventure when the two are unceremoniously dumped back into the last place Quentin ever wants to see: his parent’s house in Chesterton, Massachusetts. And only the black, twisted magic that Julia learned on the streets can save them.

The Magician King is a grand voyage into the dark, glittering heart of magic, an epic quest for the Harry Potter generation. It also introduces a powerful new voice, that of Julia, whose angry genius is thrilling. Once again Grossman proves that he is the cutting edge of literary fantasy

I will do my best to keep this spoiler free.

So you guys know that I loved The Magicians. There was no sophomore slump in this series as Quentin, Elliot, Josh, and newish characters Julia and Poppy now have to save Fillory (and the entire multiverse) from the end of all magic.

First off – I loved Poppy.  I would have paired her up with Quentin any day and she taught him a lot about optimism and perspective.  Quentin finally identified “home” and was willing to fight for it.  I loved when he embraced his sorcery and role. He learned what it takes to not only be a King, but a hero, and was willing to sacrifice everything for Julia at the end.  Even if he had known the price I think he would have said yes.

That said, I am probably the only one but I don’t sympathize with the Julia story.  She had it rough but she should have dropped it after failing the Brakebills exam.  When she got a second chance to return to normalcy and rejected that too – she made her choice.

The book got absolutely brutally grimdark towards the end as the hedgewitches essentially got what they asked for when knocking on the gods’ door. They endangered magic everywhere and were just idiotically out of their league.  I would have liked to know more about why the Free Trader Beowulf clan members weren’t chosen for magic school to begin with, what was the test really looking for?  They were so smart yet didn’t seem to consider the consequences of their actions

Their journey was interesting both  philosophically and from a religious standpoint. It was fascinating to follow their train of thought on religion as an objective study, translating to magic ….. but … I have to wonder what exactly they were thinking, to go from not trusting anyone to setting up a huge summoning which a total stranger presented! For being such geniuses they really did not think their plan through, and then the world went grimdark.

No spoilers but it takes a lot to make me cringe, and I was cringing.  I read an interview where Grossman stated that he thought the most broken people made the best creative works, and translated that into magic for the story.  The characters make so much more sense now.

All in all: I loved this one.  I liked the hedgewitch magic theory vs. religion, even if their levelling system was stupid.  I liked Quentin’s character growth.  I liked the humor.  I liked Josh’s comeback.  The magic was huge, dark, and wild in this one.

Mark Bramhall is once again a fantastic narrator as well.  I think with the humor and swearing and inflection, so much inflection, the audio narration brings a lot to this book.  I liked closing my eyes and envisioning Quentin storming the watchtower.  The end was wonderful too.  I think he does a great voice for Elliot, Josh and Quentin, and brings a lot of excitement and sorrow where appropriate.

Here are a handful of my favorite quotes:

“You didn’t get the quest you wanted, you got the one you could do.”

Grossman took a bit of time exploring what it is to be a hero

“Maybe this was one of those times when being a hero didn’t involve looking particularly brave. It was just doing what you should.”

Probably Quentin’s single biggest moment of character growth. Gosh I loved his protectiveness towards Eleanor and Benedict

“You’re saying the gods don’t have free will.”

“The power to make mistakes,” Penny said. “Only we have that. Mortals.”

An amazing bit on the gods – what is greatness if they can’t love their creation? Magic!  Quentin loved magic, he deserved it! He would fight for it!

“It’s true,” Eliot said. “Statistically, historically, and however else you want to look at it, you are almost never right. A monkey making life decisions based on its horoscope in USA Today would be right more often than you. But in this case, yes, you were right. Don’t spoil it.”

Elliot’s story ARC warmed my cold little soul in this one too. He’s found his place, his assertiveness, he’s taken charge of his home, and he’s as hilarious as ever.

The only other thing too is that I really love both alternate cover editions, I don’t just like TV covers but look at Julia! It’s beautiful


That’s enough rambling, in a few weeks I’ll have my thoughts posted on the final installment of the trilogy!

audiobooks Fantasy

The Magicians (thoughts & response to random criticism) by Lev Grossman

After being 50/50 amused and concerned by all the hatred towards this book (oh GoodReads, LOL) I decided to point my review and thoughts towards responding to some of the popular criticism.

Like it’s truly vitriolic and I don’t get it

Bookish Quick Facts:

  • Title: The Magicians
  • Series: The Magicians, #1
  • Author: Lev Grossman
  • Publisher & Release: Viking, August 2009
  • Length: 416 pgs
  • Rate & Recommend: 🌟🌟🌟🌟 yes for adult reader fans of antiheroes and magic

Here is the synopsis via goodreads:

A thrilling and original coming-of-age novel for adults about a young man practicing magic in the real world.

Quentin Coldwater is brilliant but miserable. A senior in high school, he’s still secretly preoccupied with a series of fantasy novels he read as a child, set in a magical land called Fillory. Imagine his surprise when he finds himself unexpectedly admitted to a very secret, very exclusive college of magic in upstate New York, where he receives a thorough and rigorous education in the craft of modern sorcery.

He also discovers all the other things people learn in college: friendship, love, sex, booze, and boredom. Something is missing, though. Magic doesn’t bring Quentin the happiness and adventure he dreamed it would. After graduation he and his friends make a stunning discovery: Fillory is real. But the land of Quentin’s fantasies turns out to be much darker and more dangerous than he could have imagined. His childhood dream becomes a nightmare with a shocking truth at its heart.

At once psychologically piercing and magnificently absorbing, The Magicians boldly moves into uncharted literary territory, imagining magic as practiced by real people, with their capricious desires and volatile emotions. Lev Grossman creates an utterly original world in which good and evil aren’t black and white, love and sex aren’t simple or innocent, and power comes at a terrible price.

My overall reaction to this book is positive. I think the three main points of contention are 1) unfair comparison – people read blurbs and then can’t reconcile when a book doesn’t deliver to expectation, 2) people seem to miss the fact that they aren’t supposed to like the characters where this is a more theme focused book, and 3) people saw the TV show, which is pretty vastly different, first, and think it’s better

So – the book asks two main questions.  What if Harry Potter and Narnia were real – what would it look like in the real world? What does the quest for happiness look like?

For me, the only real glitch was right at the start, and I’m going to take a moment for one of my infamous @OneReadingNurse medical rant/explanations: So the book takes place in America, in New York State. A body was found, very dead already, and an EMT came to the scene, performed a “lazy effort” resuscitation, and intubated the corpse. Ok 😂 first off in New York, EMTs can NOT intubate. Second: No one would have intubated an already clearly dead person anyway. Third, even if a qualified person was present they wouldn’t intubate in a “lazy effort” aka “slow code” – So I had a good laugh at the start but then thankfully Grossman stayed away from medical things and just tells a story

Ok down to business!

In response to Quentin being insufferable: yes! Some of the best characters are! The thing is that he isn’t supposed to be liked and I personally love complicated characters. Logically Quentin should be very happy with his life, he has everything he could have ever wanted. At the end of the “Graduation” chapter his own discontent finally dawns on him, although he hasn’t yet figured out that happiness is an internal factor. He reminds me of the characters like Martin Eden, Holden Caulfield, Scrooge. Quentin expects to have happiness presented to them on a silver platter once he reaches certain goals, places, people, things, yet he doesn’t quite realize that it’s an internal factor. That is actually a common human struggle in real life, among teens and adults alike, so I’m really mystified at the hate towards him.

Again, that sequence at the end of the graduation chapter where Quentin says that he got everything he’s ever wanted, and happiness is a fleeting thing, and It’s a terrible thing to know? That proves that he is self aware and not even slightly one dimensional.  There is a sequence of events in Fillory where Q sees the actual result of his wildest dreams, and there he truly learns the price of escapism.

For just one second, look at your life and see how perfect it is. Stop looking for the next secret door that is going to lead you to your real life. Stop waiting. This is it: there’s nothing else. It’s here, and you’d better decide to enjoy it or you’re going to be miserable wherever you go, for the rest of your life, forever –Alice

Which brings me to my next point: the language. I graduated in 06 and was in college in 09, and this book really truly threw me back to those years. The kids I was familiar with in high school and college talked and acted pretty similarly to these characters, except with marginally less alcohol. We swore, we made fun of each other, we handled it, and we didn’t get hyperoffended by everything. I’m pretty sure hormonal teenage boys still notice boobs on women before much else. Has that changed since 2009? I REALLY  doubt it. People can be on their high horses all they want but this these characters actually feel real to me, very much unlike what I read in contemporary novels these days.

Are you kidding? That guy was a mystery wrapped in an enigma and crudely stapled to a ticking fucking time bomb. He was either going to hit somebody or start a blog.

Onwards! Let’s talk about the plot and magic

The magical test and the magic in general are also fairly interesting, and I like the parts that happen at the school quite a bit. It’s almost a relief to have the years summarized as they were, as I frankly don’t need to know every nuance of what happened as the characters develop relationships and memorize spells ad nauseum forever.

The part taking place in Fillory does seem like a fairly direct knockoff of Narnia, but …. Now bear with me …. Authors rip off published works all the time, in “retellings”, so really how is this any different? Heck someone just ripped off Little Women and it was so similar the author didn’t even bother changing the character names.

That said – how do you really think these people would feel being dropped into Fillory as they were? I freaking loved Josh, thinking the dryad was hot, and also the scene with the giant molten man where everything went to hell and Josh just commented on his balls 😂

There were darker themes too! The Fillory undertones of betrayal, death of the Old Gods, becoming a monster, set ups and more betrayals, and even the clocks? Action and consequence? This isn’t light subject matter! What about Elliot finally admitting that Fillory saved his life?

Now he had answers, but they weren’t doing what answers were supposed to do: they weren’t making things simpler or easier. They weren’t helping.

These characters all came from homes where they weren’t getting a ton of guidance and oversight, some of them were outright rejected. With how smart they all were, it isn’t hard to believe that they were turning to alcohol and drugs and other unsavory practices!

Plus the magic itself – heartbreaking at the end but cool.  Think of magic in a contemporary light, people just figuring it out as they go, sometimes accidentally doing something truly huge?  I think Grossman nailed it

I think overall it was interesting, engaging, and followed relatable aspects of life (such as searching for and misunderstanding happiness), teenage and college relationships, oddball groups of friends, even lost love is included and found family.

Oh gosh the story about Alice’s brother, and then Alice 😦

I will also add that Mark Bramhall does a heck of a audio narration. Honestly I think my favorite voice is that of Josh Hoberman, especially when he bounded off yelling *AND III F*CKED YOURRR MOTHERRRR* like I was howling laughing. The narration really is epic.

Long story short: definitely read this one