Monday, 13 January 2020

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Review: Magic for Liars by Sarah Gailey

Magic for Liars by Sarah Gailey

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Magic for Liars by Sarah Gailey

Published: 4th June 2019 | Publisher: Tor | Cover Designer: Will Staehle | Source: Publisher
Sarah Gailey's Website

Sharp, mainstream fantasy meets compelling thrills of investigative noir in this fantasy debut by rising star Sarah Gailey.

Ivy Gamble has never wanted to be magic. She is perfectly happy with her life—she has an almost-sustainable career as a private investigator, and an empty apartment, and a slight drinking problem. It's a great life and she doesn't wish she was like her estranged sister, the magically gifted professor Tabitha.

But when Ivy is hired to investigate the gruesome murder of a faculty member at Tabitha’s private academy, the stalwart detective starts to lose herself in the case, the life she could have had, and the answer to the mystery that seems just out of her reach.
From Goodreads.

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I was sent this review copy for free by Tor for the purposes of providing an honest review.

Rep: A lot of side characters are gay, lesbian, or bi/pan, but no labels are given.


Magic for Liars sounded absolutely right up my street! Harry Potter meets a crime thriller? Sign me up! However, it turned out to be a huge disappointment.

Imagine that Harry Potters' Aunt Petunia - who knows about the magical world, but nothing of magic - was a private investigator, not nearly as abusive or bullying, but just as jealous of not having magical powers (except she tries to convince herself that she doesn't want to be magical at all), and with a bit of a drinking problem. That's Ivy Gamble. Her estranged, magical and brilliant sister, Tabitha, is a teacher at the school for teenage mages where another is murdered, and Ivy is hired to uncover who did it. Osthorne Academy for Young Mages is a high school that teaches all the usual classes non-mages would learn, plus magical classes, such as Theoretical Magic and Physical. It sounds incredible, right? It sounds so exciting!

But the fact is, it's really very slow. Very slow, and a lot of this is down to the fact that Ivy has no clue about magic. She finds some clues, but those clues don't actually mean anything to Ivy, or the reader, because magic is involved, and she doesn't know how magic works. And because of this, as a reader, you're unable to come up with your own theories, because we don't understand the clues. Whenever Tabitha or Rahul, the teacher of Physical Magic, try to explain some aspect of magic, it comes across as so complicated that Ivy stops them, or has to pretend she knows what Rahul is talking about - because she's pretending she's a mage - so nothing is actually explained in any way that we, the readers, are able to grasp. Because nothing is ever explained, the world building feels almost lazy, or slipshod, and comes across as weird, complicated science that makes no sense meets absolute nonsense. I would love someone to explain to me exactly what the clouds-in-water method is, or fists-in-sand, because no-one in the book does.

To be honest, a lot of the book is Ivy feeling sorry for herself for not being a mage, feeling resentful to teenage mages who use their magic on frivolous things, pretending to be a mage, but only so the people she's interviewing won't treat her differently, of course, not at all because she wants to feel like one of them, her internal battle over her relationship with Tabitha, and a possible romance that was absolutely not needed, which had zero chemistry. If it's not clear, I really wasn't a fan of Ivy, I found her too self-centred and uninteresting. There isn't a massive of actual investigating done. We see a few interviews, we're told she tapes things to the wall, we're told she reads files. But the actual, proper sleuthing doesn't really happen until the last third of the book. And you'd think, with a whole school, there would be a large number of people who might have a motive, but there are actually very few people who it could be. Besides Ivy, there are five teachers and five teens that actually get page time, and it's always pretty obvious that a large number of them didn't do anything. So it comes to a very few number of people, and there's no real theories, or red herrings, or excitement, or even twists, really.

I want to talk about a couple of things that are kind of small, maybe, overall, but actually really annoyed me. There are some real timing issues in this book a number of times. Ivy arranges to meet a student after the school day is done, but during that meeting, which takes place after the final bell has been rung, the student says Ivy has caused her to miss one of her classes, and she's going to make her late for another. There's a point when Ivy comes into possession of 70-odd notes students have passed between each other, and she tapes them to a wall, in no particular order, just to have them up somewhere, to look at. I should point out here that we are with Ivy and her first person narration the whole time in this book. Later on, she's showing someone the notes, and suddenly they're all in chronological order, and they're telling a particular story that has given her first and only lead. Firstly, when exactly did she spend the hours it would take to work out the order of all the notes (they're not dated), and tape them up in that order? Secondly, when she discovered this only lead, why didn't she investigate it right away? Why was she acting like she still didn't have anything concrete, and was interviewing people, grasping at straws to find something? Why did she only start looking into it after she showed the notes to this other person? And thirdly, why on earth is she telling this person in a, "Look at me, look at what I do, this is my job, aren't I so very clever and impressive?" way, rather than, "I've actually found a concrete lead her, and I may be able to solve this murder soon"? In that moment, she didn't care about the person who had died, she didn't care about solving the murder, she cared about impressing this other person.

And there were too many similarities to Harry Potter for me. The non-magical sister who is jealous. A part of the library where books are dangerous, books that whispered, and you're not allowed in without permission, and couldn't take them out of the library. There was something very much like the Pensieve, crying out memories into a bowl of water. There was talk of a prophecy and the Chosen One who would change the world... and there was actually no real need for this at all, because it didn't really make any difference to the story or related to the murder at all. It was just too much for me. So not only is there unintelligible magic, there's also a lot that isn't original enough.

And in the end, there were also certain elements that were really obvious, that Ivy was oblivious. People making slip ups and saying the wrong thing. The author of a diary. These things may not have directly pointed out who the murderer was, but they were still things a private investigator should have been noticed from the get-go, or at least it should have been written in a way that meant it wasn't so obvious to the reader. The revelation ended up being really anti-climatic, and the ending itself, I felt, was pretty disappointing.

So over all, this book wasn't for me, unfortunately. But many other people seem to have enjoyed it, so do read other reviews before deciding whether or not to read Magic for Liars yourself.

Thank you to Tor for the review copy.

You might also like:

Dead Witch Walking by Kim Harrison Magic Bites by Ilona Andrews Halfway to the Grave by Jeaniene Frost

Over to you graphic
What do you think about stories that combine two different genres, like fantasy and detective fiction? Have you read Magic for Liars? What did you think? Will you be picking it up? Let me know in the comments!

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