I almost didn't pick up this book because of the bad reviews. But I am really glad I did.
The Magicians is often described as "Harry Potter for adults", and that probably gives people wrong expectations about it. Sure, the similarities are many (and intentional): there's a magical school, a wizard born in a non-magical family, there's a wizard sport... but fundamentally they are two very different stories.
I would not recommend this to every Harry Potter fan, but for me, a big fan back in the day, it worked.
Oh, how I wished as a child that Hogwarts were real! How infinitely more FUN life would be if I could enter that magical world! But the letter of invitation never came, and the dream got buried along with all other silly dreams of my childhood.
But that's where the main character, Quentin, is different from so many of us. Quentin never lets go of the dream of one day finding a magical world like the one he read about as a child in his favorite fantasy novels. He doesn't necessary believe in it, but he just never stops wishing. If only he could find it, he could truly be happy.
And he does find a magical world eventually, one very similar to the one in Harry Potter. At this point, all those dreams I had as a child came back to me, I was feeling what it would be like to get that letter in the mail, to be invited into that private magical club.
But this book doesn't provide you with a simple wish fulfillment fantasy. And I think that's what many people dislike about it. Quentin quickly gets disillusioned with this new world, he does not find the happiness he craves.
You will often find yourself wanting to scream at him: "WHAT THE HELL IS IT THAT YOU WANT???". And that is also what Quentin keeps asking himself throughout the book.
So really, this book is not about a quest for saving the world or killing Voldemort, it's about a quest for happiness. And I know that sounds LAME AS HELL, but this book is still REALLY MAGICAL. The world is fascinating, their magic system complex and difficult to master, and yes, they DO go on adventures.
Because of the bad reviews, while reading the book I couldn't shake the nagging fear that the characters would eventually do something terrible that would make me hate them and hate the book, yet that never happened. The characters are flawed, interesting, and often very funny. Quentin is kind of a dick, but a tolerable one. You want to slap him (and the other characters) for his bad decisions, but there's also that dark sense of enjoyment that comes from watching all the drama that ensues.
So, if you like magic, and you can tolerate a mopey guy who's kind of a dick sometimes, DO read this book!