I remember reading some essays of Lev Grossman's online and being a little enchanted with his writing. I've been meaning to pick up this series for about forever, but somehow never got around to it. Then daughter and I watched the Syfy series of The Magicians and rather liked it - sulky nerdy Quentin, shy stuck-up Alice, damaged and wild-eyed Julia, belligerent Penny and the fabulous pair of Margo and Elliot. So I thought I'd finally read the book, although I was aware the plot was wildly different.
So, I read the book. And I'm non-plussed, because I really liked the TV series much, much better.
Quentin here is not just sulky and nerdy, he's flat out whiny and self-absorbed to a ridiculous degree, and so so jaded. Alice is cripplingly shy, but has no edge to her. Penny practically isn't in the book (boo! TV Penny is great) and Julia even less so, and really only Elliot and Margo I mean Janet approach the same level of characterisation. And this is absolutely not me complaining about the fact they're different--I'm one of those weirdos who loves the LOTR books and the LOTR movies--but rather complaining about the fact they are all mostly as unlikeable as hell and when someone dies in the book, I simply don't care.
On the bright side, Grossman is a very engaging writer as always, and that is really the only thing that kept me reading. And I get it, I've read his explanations, that they're unlikeable, to a point, on purpose. It just didn't work for me. I didn't hate the book, and I'll read the other two, I'm certainly not regretting the time spent (and in fact, I found this a fast and easy read, because again, as mentioned, Grossman is a good writer.)
So pros: Excellent writing, great worldbuilding.
Cons: I just didn't give a flying fig what happened to the characters.
Conclusion: Watch the TV show. And read some other Lev Grossman writing, unless you find the idea of this one particularly enchanting.
ETA; A thought: Even if you didn't like the book, give the show a try. It takes until episode three or so to really settle in, but the plot is WILDLY different to the book, making all the characters older (Brakebills is a grad school, not a university), and it has an actual plot that creates some urgency. Relative to the book, all it really shares is some character names (and not even all of those)