The premise of this book heavily leans on two fantasy mainstays - the Harry Potter series and the Chronicles of Narnia. The main character Quentin is a super smart high school senior in New York who is rather morosely, along with his super smart friends, jockeying to get into an ivy league college. The problem is Quentin is not happy which remains a constant theme throughout the book. He is rather obsessed with a series of "childish" fantasy novels that take place in the magical land of Fillory (aka Narnia with a few changes). He wonders why life is so dull and unfulfilling and suspects that if only he could be whisked away to Fillory he'd be happy. Luckily Quentin does get whisked away though not to Fillory - but to Brakebills, a College for magical education (aka a college version of Hogwarts). The book follows Quentin through his tenure at Brakebills and the events 4-5 years post graduation when he actually finds the secret door to Narnia, I mean Fillory.
The writing in the magicians is excellent -witty and clever. The ideas about Brakebills and what a college for magicians might be like are interesting and at times creative. I did get the overall emotion of the book - a feeling of waiting for that event or spark that will turn your life around and make you happy and the astonishing disappointment that even when amazing things do happen to you it makes very little difference to how you feel in the long run. How you feel is an entirely internal thing, unaffected by outside events.
The major problems with the book are the characters and the complete lack of plot or momentum through most of the book. It was a slow read, because for the first two sections of the book, while the ideas being presented were interesting, it was just a long series of occurrences with little purpose. The only part of the book that moves, and it went quickly, is the third section. As mentioned the book also borrows heavily from Harry Potter and the Chronicles of Narnia but replaces the likeable-while-still-being flawed kids that star in those books with super-smart, elitist, selfish, completely unlikeable twenty-somethings. With the exception of 1 maybe two characters they are completely unappealing. There is an attempt to redeem Quentin at the end of the book, but it doesn't work. And while this may be more reflective of the real world and what Harry Potter might look like if it took place in the American Northeast it often did not make enjoyable reading.