Pushing through the dark and tangled woods of upstate New York, a young woman emerges from the thicket into a surprisingly summery day, an expanse of green lawn, and the turreted structure of an imposing building. Some, having read nothing more than the previous sentence, will already suspect that this structure is Brakebills—university for magicians, setting of Lev Grossman’s bestselling novel The Magicians and the TV show of the same name—and they would be right. But while the novel and TV show feature Quentin Coldwater as their protagonist, this graphic novel is told from the point of view of Alice Quinn, prodigious magician and Quentin’s off-again-on-again love interest.
While The Magicians: Alice’s Story covers the same ground as Lev Grossman’s novel, some plot points are condensed and others added to effectively tell the tale from Alice’s perspective. As a reader who hadn’t read the novel nor viewed any of the TV show before reading The Magicians: Alice’s Story, I found the graphic novel perfectly comprehensible without prior knowledge. At the same time, the book never quite escapes the sense of being derived from something larger: whereas the novel bridges the transition between major plot points with a fluid abundance of words and small details, for instance, graphic novel writer Lilah Sturges often opts for “fast-forwarding” through years of time to hit the most significant moments.
Unfortunately, almost all of the moments deemed significant involve Quentin Coldwater and/or his rival Penny, both men. While the earlier parts of the graphic novel add nuance and even entire new plot points to Alice’s story, these dimensional additions fall off as the book progresses until the story boils down to a very limited range of emotions: Alice’s longing for Quentin and her feelings of being caught between Quentin and Penny. Alice is an intriguing person and talented magician mostly sidelined in Grossman’s novel as an object for Quentin to alternately ignore, yearn for, and rail against. It was disappointing to find that she wasn’t given much more room to breathe here, in the version of the story eponymously told from her own point of view.
Despite this drawback, the graphic novel has considerable strong points. While I haven’t yet watched the TV show, the graphic novel makes contributions to the visual telling of the Magicians story in its own right. Illustrator Pius Bak effectively imagines the characters and settings, and renders sometimes complex scenes of battle, magic, and travel through time and space in vibrant and coherent visuals. Close readers of the novel will find little details from the book sprinkled throughout the illustrations, a delightful treasure hunt. The coloring by Dan Jackson is rich, sparkling with iridescent golds and purples and otherworldly blues, and does a good job underlining the difference between the magical, non-magical, and otherworldly settings.
An engrossing accompaniment to The Magicians, Sturges’ graphic novel is unfortunate only in that it doesn’t imagine big enough, choosing to cleave close to the men-centric plot of the canon text rather than investigating the full range of what Alice Quinn might have thought, felt, and experienced throughout the course of her magical journey.
The Magicians: Alice’s Story
By Lilah Sturges
Art by Pius Bak
NFNT Age Recommendation: Older Teen (16-18), Adult (18+)
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Creator Highlights: LGBTQIA+ Creator
Related to…: Book to Comic