Lev Grossman’s Magicians trilogy is an excellent fantasy series set in the modern world.
The series stands apart from the run of the mill because – among other reasons – Grossman actually takes seriously the project of imagining what magic would be like if it existed in our world. This is done surprisingly infrequently in modern fantasy, and rarely done this well. The only other work I can think of that does it so well is Scott Hawkins’s brutal The Library at Mount Char. The red pill isn’t in the Magicians series to a great extent, but there’s a crimson lozenge here and there.
They don’t seem to be there by the author’s design. Grossman’s a hellasmart guy, but I don’t think he’s red-pilled. If he is, then part of his intention for the viewpoint character, Quentin, is to show a guy who’s not red-pilled and how that screws up his romance life. What I think more likely is that Grossman just got a lot of this stuff right either by luck, or because he was drawing upon some of the less happy interactions that he himself has had with the opposite sex.
Anyway: First book, The Magicians, a.k.a. Quentin goes to magic school.
The problem with the relationship between Quentin and Alice – and anyone who has read the book will instantly understand what I mean – is:
Alice is an intermediate- to advanced-level girlfriend.
Quentin is only ready for a beginner-level girlfriend.
What he needs at age ~19 is a girl whose shit tests are normal, not advanced, and are only occasional and not too hard to deal with. In other words, he needs a chick who is not shit testing him most of the time, and when she does shit test him, flings tests that are (1) obvious and (2) standard. Something like suddenly snapping at him, in a bitchy tone of voice, “Don’t do it that way! Do it this way!” with an unspoken addendum of “…you idiot!” In other words, Quentin needs a ~19-year-old girlfriend who will give him standard shit tests of the sort that start in 8th grade and continue through college, for most chicks. That will get him going on the learning process (if he’s willing to learn) that would eventually let him handle a girl like Alice.
The problem is that Alice is at an entirely different level of shit testing. She doesn’t fling particular shit tests at him; rather, her entire personality is one big shit test. She is a shit test. Truly, this is a different kind of shit test; it’s not just the same stuff, but more of it. A woman who is herself a walking, breathing shit test is a different kind of thing to deal with.
It takes a certain kind of man to handle a woman like this intuitively. Otherwise, she can only be handled by a game-aware man who has had a certain amount of practice dealing with women from the perspective of utterly amoral sex war, which is the female sex’s natural perspective on male-female interactions. Either that, or a natural playah who has had so much pussy already, that he doesn’t have to fake a cavalier indifference to any one vagina, because he does, in fact, have a cavalier indifference to any one vagina.
Alice is actually an asshole. If she were a real person… hmm, but if she were a real person she never would have been with Quentin in the first place. (In the third book in the series, The Magician’s Land, Quentin and someone else discuss this puzzle [in Ch 20]. I was glad to see the puzzle of how Quentin and Alice got together explicitly acknowledged in-text.) But if their relationship were a real one – if we ignore the fact that it’s fundamentally implausible – I would (after predicting its imminent death) diagnose it as follows:
Alice is full of rage because she can’t find a man who will stand up to her shit testing. If a woman can’t find a man who will swat down her shit tests, she becomes full of anger because she feels she cannot find a male who is worthy of her (this is an aspect of standard female hypergamy). Alice is brilliant and magically powerful, so with the female hypergamy built into her neural hardware, she’s a walking rage bomb. God, there is so much anger in Alice. It’s weird: it’s like Grossman got that detail right without understanding why.
Then there’s the drama, which Alice carries with her wherever she goes. But again, it’s not so much that she creates dramatic scenes at particular moments – though she does that too – as that she herself is a walking blast of drama. She is constantly wondering why, though she’s an incredibly powerful magician, she was not detected by the Brakebills magic school and invited to enroll. She had to force her way in through their magic wards, upon which event the faculty basically said, “Okay, okay, fine, if you’re that strong, and if it means that much to you.” But the big unanswered question of her existence is what is so wrong with her that she wasn’t invited in the normal way. Later, we learn the answer to this question, which dials up the drama even more.
Anyway, she carries this drama around with her constantly. It is, as with her shit-testing, an entirely higher level of drama from that chick you made out with that one time in 8th grade and then started acting all weird. Quentin is not ready for this, either.
SPOILERZ UP THE ASS BEYOND THIS POINT.
In the first book, Alice turns herself into a powerful demon (with the unlikely name of niffin, which sounds like a kind of cake that English people would have with tea. “Would you like another niffin, dear?” “Yes, thanks so much!”) because this is the only way to defeat the ultra-powerful bad guy that she and her friends are up against.
In the third book, Quentin figures out how to convert her back to human form. After sleeping 20 hours and getting re-accustomed to having a physical body, etc. she goes into full-bore drama mode:
“You robbed me.” She spat it… “I was perfect. I was immortal. I was happy. You took all that away from me. Did you expect me to be grateful? Did you? I didn’t want to be human again, but you dragged me back into this body.”
She held up her hands like they were low-grade meat, a butcher’s discards.
“I lost everything, twice. The first time I gave it up. But the second time you stole it.”
Well! That’s the quite the speech! But there’s one little problem: Alice knows the spell to turn herself into a niffin! That’s how she came to be one in the first place! So if she really wanted to, she could just cast it again. So she’s just being a melodramatic asshole.
Quentin figures out how to deal with this crap eventually, though it’s not how I would have and it’s not particularly red-pilled.
Pulling back for the broad view: Overall, this is a very well conceived and executed fantasy series. Just one caveat: It tends to provoke extreme responses; people mostly love it or hate it. So read enough to decide if it’s your kind of thing before purchasing.
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