Safiyya: For February’s buddy read, Hailey and I read Magic for Liars, by Sarah Gailey, an urban fantasy/mystery set in modern-day America.

 

Private investigator Ivy Gamble is called in to investigate the mysterious death of a teacher at Osthorne Academy for Young Mages. Although Ivy claims to hate everything to do with magic, she secretly longs to be a magician like her talented sister. She decides to take the case, live out her inner fantasy of belonging to the magical community, and reconnect with her estranged sister. In the course of her investigation, she comes across snotty teenagers, prophecies, secret relationships, and impossible magic.

 

I will get straight to the point – I did not particularly enjoy this book. It had an engaging mystery plot, side characters whom I found interesting, and fascinating world-building with regard to the magic. Nonetheless, I almost DNF’ed Magic for Liars because I was so utterly exasperated with the main character Ivy. Since everything after the prologue was written in first-person POV from Ivy’s perspective, there was really no way to escape her. As such, I mostly spent the book quietly seething at this annoying brat and her increasingly poor decision-making.

 

Just to be clear, Ivy is a fully adult woman in her mid-thirties, with a fairly good life:

 

  • She is a white, American, heteronormative, upper-middle-class woman. As far as we know, she has never experienced abuse, oppression, or discrimination or any kind.
  •  She has never been deprived of anything for her basic needs. She didn’t have any worries about food or shelter through her childhood, and her parents apparently paid for her college education.
  • Speaking of which, she has a loving family, and if she was ever in need support, or a home, or really anything, she could always go to her father or sister for help.
  • She has no physical or mental health conditions that would potentially restrict her abilities or life choices.
  • She seems to like her work as an investigator, and it seems to pay well enough that she still doesn’t have any concerns about money.

 

Ivy has more than most people will ever have, and yet she spends twenty-seven chapters of a twenty-seven-chapter book complaining that her life is ruined forever because she doesn’t have magical powers.

 

(Incidentally, Ivy doesn’t actually need magical powers. Most of the people around her don’t even believe in magic. She just wants to have magic powers, because her sister Tabitha got to have magic powers, and it’s not fair that Ivy can’t also be gifted, and she deserves to have magic powers too. Basically, this book felt like it was all about Petunia Dursley from the Harry Potter series.)

 

Aside from Ivy’s constant obsession about not having magic powers, she pursues a relationship by constantly lying to her romantic interest, tries to reconnect with her sister by accusing the latter of de facto killing their mother, and just generally spends a lot of time complaining about how teenagers are so ungrateful for all of the things they have. Blegh.

 

Protagonists are not always likeable, and I don’t need a protagonist to be likeable in order to appreciate a book. But a protagonist should at least be compelling enough to draw the reader through the story. I think the author meant to portray Ivy as a compelling and somewhat sympathetic character, and I think the reader is meant to root for her success. Unfortunately, I was not able to do so, and that is why I would struggle to recommend this book.

 

In spite of my overall feelings about Magic for Liars, there were some positive points:

  • Sarah Gailey has a good writing style and sense of pacing
  • She sets up the murder mystery and revelation of suspects quite well. She also plays with some classical fantasy tropes in an interesting way.
  • I liked several of the side characters, including Ivy’s sister Tabitha, the school nurse Mrs. Webb, and the practical magic teacher Rahul. I rather wished the book had been told from Tabitha’s POV, in fact.

As such, I would certainly be interested in reading some of Sarah Gailey’s other novels.

 

It is also worth noting, Magic for Liars has a pretty high Goodreads score, so a lot of people were able to connect with the story and the main character. If you aren’t sure where you stand after reading this review (which is fair, the ambivalence vibes are strong), I would suggest that you try the first three or four chapters, and see how you feel about the rest from there.

 

For my part, if you want to read a fantasy/mystery story featuring a compelling female protagonist who is determined to solve a mysterious murder, I would recommend Olivia Atwater’s Longshadow.

Title page of Magic for Liars by Sarah Gailey

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

This time was going to be different. This time was going to be better. This time, I was going to be enough.

Sarah Gailey

 

When Princess Amythest (aka Amy) is born, she receives gift upon gift from her fairy godmothers: charm, wit, grace, courage…and to her parent’s horror, her most eccentric fairy godmother grants her the gift of being ordinary! Unlike her impossibly beautiful and perfect sisters, Amy likes climbing trees, exploring forests, and getting into all manner of adventures. But when her despairing parents go one step too far in their plans to marry her off, Amy decides she needs to take matters into her own hands.

 

I mainly read this book because:

(a) It was a recommendation from Amrita, of  Amrita By the Book (you can check out her Booktube channel here and her Bookstagram here); and

(b) I’ve been gobbling up every M. M. Kaye book I can find, after I fell deeply in love with The Far Pavilions earlier this year.

 

I’ll get straight to the point: The Ordinary Princess is a highly adorable story, and it’s a great reading choice for younger girls. Amy is such a determined little heroine, and she really takes control of her own life. She gets a job! She stands up for the kitchen maids! She refuses to let her parents destroy the countryside via dragon in an effort to marry her off! I loved her character so much.

 

I don’t mind reading books for younger readers, but I also really think that the book really holds up well for adult readers as well as children. It’s not too preachy or condescending, and it doesn’t have any major “yikes” moments, considering that it was written in the mid-1900s and published in the 1980s. Plus, the author drew all the illustrations in my edition of the novel, and her artwork is just lovely to behold.

 

There is a playfulness about the language and writing style of this book, which I hadn’t really seen in M. M. Kaye’s historical and mystery books. Dare I say it, it was reminiscent of Georgette Heyer’s lively and humorous writing style. All of which is to say: I highly recommend it!

 

– Safiyya

 

PS: Disney, please go make an adaptation of this movie! Or Studio Ghibli, which would be a very different and absolutely fantastic option!

Cover page for The Ordinary Princess by M. M. Kaye

 

 

 

“Hmm!” said the Fairy Crustacea. “Wit, Charm, Courage, Health, Wisdom, Grace…Good gracious, poor child! Well, thank goodness my magic is stronger than anyone else’s.” 

– M. M. Kaye

 

Cover page for Madeline Miller's Circe

Hailey and I fully intended to do a buddy read and review for Madeline Miller’s Circe. Unfortunately, we hated it. After a long and cathartic ranting session, neither of us felt much like getting into it all over again in a written format. Well, it’s been some time since then, and I am ready to discuss this book in a calm and rational manner. Mostly.

 

Content Warning: this review discusses violence against women and sexual assault. We have to address these topics, as they are present within the book.

 

Circe is an amalgamation and retelling of the Greek myths around the mysterious witch-nymph Circe, famously prominent in Homer’s Odyssey. Miller follows Circe’s life from her early childhood to the end of her days, as she encounters heroes, fights monsters, and comes into her magical powers as a witch whom even the other gods fear.

 

I will not be like a bird bred in a cage, I thought, too dull to fly even when the door stands open.

– Madeline Miller

Dear readers, she was exactly that dull.