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Author Topic: Lev Grossman
Member # 10008

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I'm less than a third of the way through The Magicians (by Lev Grossman), but I couldn't wait to comment on this.

It's horrible. The man doesn't understand how to tell a story. Yet the book must have sold quite a few copies. There are over 60K ratings on Goodreads averaging 3.44/5. Reading over the reviews, some people love it, others hate it, others said "meh."

I should clarify that it's not REALLY horrible. It has some likable qualities. But comparing it to Harry Potter is criminal. What I heard about the book (and likely what others heard) is that it's Harry Potter but with booze and sex.

And in that context it's hard to find words that are fittingly demeaning.

So why is this book so popular? Previously Grossman wrote Warp (1997) 2.62/5 across 61 ratings and Codex (2005) 2.94/5 across 2,842 ratings. It's not like Grossman was popular or prolific. He didn't have any sort of following to produce the success The Magicians realized, nor was the book good enough to merit it.

Also, when Warp got bad reviews on Amazon, Grossman submitted fake positive reviews himself.

But Grossman is a prolific journalist, NYT, WSJ, Wired and Salon.com just a to name a few. He may even be a good journalist. I don't know. Unsurprisingly, The Magicians got rave reviews from newspapers. He won a Campbell for Best New Writer (for his third book) and an Alex Award.

My speculation is that Grossman had the connections to push this book as "Harry Potter for adults" even though it's obviously nothing of the sort. But those connections were enough to make it sell like it earned that moniker.

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Member # 8201

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If you went in expecting a Harry Potterish book, then no wonder your expectations were disappointed. The Magicians isn't Harry Potter, and I don't think it's fair to say it did well because it was marketed as "Harry Potter for adults." Those people who voted for Grossman for the Campbell voted for him based on the book, not on the marketing.

I have issues with this series, mainly, the characters are such miserable excuses for human beings that it's hard to want to spend time with them. On the other hand, Grossman writes some absolutely beautiful prose. I also quite enjoyed the idea behind the book, that those Narnia-like fantasy worlds I wanted to visit as a kid are actually real. I wish I had thought of it first.

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Member # 10008

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You're right. The prose is beautiful. Grossman also does a fantastic job of making magic seem real, like this really did or really could happen. That's why I said the book isn't REALLY horrible.

But I did go into it with Harry Potterish expectations. And in that context it's horrible. Here's the editorial reviews page for The Magicians on Amazon.


The first seven reviews reference HP (or J.K.), despite the fact that a few of them are just 1 or 2 sentences.

I was talking with a friend about this book. He had heard of it. His wife's librarian recommended it her as "Harry Potter for adults."

I do think it's "fair" to say the book's (popular) success was due to it being marketed as "Harry Potter for adults." Do you think that glowing reviews comparing it to HP in the NYT, WP, New Yorker, etc. isn't going to drive sales?

I think it's a fair point about the Campbell voters. Does everyone that attends WorldCon get to vote? It's interesting to me that he won given that:

a) popular ratings were poor and
b) he wasn't/isn't a new writer and you could make a good argument that he wasn't even eligible.

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Member # 10008

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I've had some time to think about this.

Originally I was upset about two things. First, I feel like Grossman got (somewhat) overly sympathetic and more prominent reviews because of his connections. But honestly, I can't fault him for that. I would do the same thing in his position. And that's just the way things are.

Secondly, I was upset by the comparisons to Harry Potter from prominent media outlets. Grossman may not have had anything to do those comparisons, although I think at least his publisher/publicist did. Would I try to stop people from comparing my book to Harry Potter? Probably not.

But I think there's a lesson here. The Magicians received a lot of scorn along with its praise, and I think the majority of that scorn had its origins in the Potter comparisons. A lot of people picked up the book expecting something Potter-like and they were severely disappointed.

Without the Potter comparisons the book would have had a smaller audience. But I think readers would have been much happier. I might be inclined to say I'd be happier with this second scenario, a smaller but happier readership.

Really though, that's probably a load of self-righteous malarky. I wouldn't have done anything differently.

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Kathleen Dalton Woodbury
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I can remember seeing DUNE promoted as "like LORD OF THE RINGS" and finding that mind-boggling because they are nowhere similar to each other.

Some publishers will do anything they can get away with to promote a book, so you have to take what they say with a grain of salt. <shrug>

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On a side note, I actually do sometimes think and speak of the Dune series as "to science fiction what Lord of the Rings is to fantasy" but that's mostly because they both have such in depth world building and epic sweep, and also very devoted fans. In terms of flavor, tone, etc and so on and so forth they are obviously very different.
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