After having read the first two books, I'm frustrated; and having invested my time, I feel I've earned the right to rant a bit.
The series began well. It's established a pursuit-worthy concept: strip away some of the juvenile aspects of a typical magic-on-earth type setting, and see how someone might actually, practically come to terms with it.
It doesn't build its own universe so much as add on to reality.
Relationships exist through believable circumstances. There was no caricatured connections, like say, The Durselys in Harry potter. It was relatable. The main character, Quentin's, emptiness and thirst for fulfillment is something I understood and related to. The rote, competitive, near-addiction to "the next thing", the realization of its subsequent emptiness, and the existential despair that follows. That search for something meaningful, satisfied not by some Buddhist enlightenment, but by a tangible force in the world; the discovery of magic, and the hope that comes with it.
But the more I progressed, the more I kept rolling my eyes. The stories felt forced, immature, and inconsistent.
First Quentin is an introvert, obsessed with his own academic competitive nature, obsessed with the same girl -- without any reciprocation, obsessed with Fillory and its storybook nature . Then he falls in love with an even more extreme version of himself, Alice, a good sign that he's going to explore some kind of relationship, and perhaps mature from it.
Then he graduates and decides to start doing coke and ecstasy. What kind of a jump is that? The character could've gone from A to B, but there wasn't any real development in between.
Quentin can run naked 500 miles, to the south pole; but he can't follow Ember up a hill without panting.
Quentin has the diligence and self control to practice rote spells for tens of hours in near solitary confinement, in the pursuit of fulfillment, but he doesn't have self-control to resist the drunken temptation of sex with Julia.
Quentin comes to terms with his mistake, and looks for a way to atone; but then becomes inconsolably rageful when he finds out Alice slept with Penny.
Quentin and gang are pragmatic enough to participate in the grueling work of Brakebills, focusing on the fundamental nature of spells, but still provide us with ridiculous situations of dramatic irony. Should I walk through this arbitrary portal I found in the middle of nowhere? What could go wrong?
Further, it seemed to me that references and jokes were thrown in arbitrarily, meant to satisfy some goal of keeping the magic world relevant. Random Pink Floyd reference, random sex, random this, random that. Look guys, I'm cool and this story is so hip!
I realize this is staggered. Sorry for being lazy, and not formatting it better.