Quentin Coldwater is an unhappy teen, eyeing up an uncertain future in college. He's secretly in love with his friend Julia. Nothing else really matters to him except the Fillory and Further series of books he's loved since childhood. Imagine how he feels when a seamingly routine college interview drops an undiscovered Fillory book in his grasp and leads him to Brakebills, a college of wizardry, and worlds beyond...
First of all, this isn't Harry Potter for adults, no matter how much people want to slap that label on it. Although if you expanded that label to Harry Potter for cynical adults who've read Harry Potter and don't think it's the greatest series ever written,
it would be more accurate. It has a superficial resemblance to Harry Potter in that both books involve learning to be a wizard. That's about it. Parts of it remind me of Stephen King's The Talisman, while others reminded me of Wizard of Earthsea, and the magic reminds me of Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell.
In a nutshell, The Magicians depicts what would happen if regular people went to a college for wizards, complete with parties, sex, drugs, cursing, and making stupid choices. The characters make mistakes and act like normal people, not heroes. Quentin's never happy, not even in his relationship with Alice or his friendships with the other wizards.
One thing that stands out in The Magicians is the magic. It's not fake latin and waving wands around. It's taxing and has consequences and learning it is extremely difficult. One character's speculation that magic might be the tools left behind after the universe was created really sticks in my mind.
The back cover says it's a coming of age story. It is, and the moral of the story is Be careful what you wish for. You just might get it.