Magic for Liars

By Sarah Gailey

Magic for Liars, a novel by Sarah Gailey
Book details

There are books that ruin it for anyone else. Harry Potter has basically made it impossible to make a book set in a magical school without someone saying, “rip off”. Just don’t mention to those people that The Worst Witch has been around a lot longer. Still, it takes a brave soul to set their book in a school for wizardry if their name is not Rowling. Sarah Gailey has an intelligent solution to stop any comparisons. Magic for Liars may be set in a school that teaches magical children, but it is a book written for an adult audience and has murder in mind.

Ivy Gamble is your typical fictional Private Investigator; poor, self-loathing and a little too much fondness for drink. What she does have is knowledge that she wishes she did not. While Ivy may have been born an average person, her sister was not. The sister has magical powers and teaches at The Osthorne Academy of Young Mages. The two do not communicate any more, but Ivy’s muggle skills for investigation are required when an apparent accident occurs on school premises. With the magical authorities writing off the incident, it is up to Ivy to apply real world investigation to a magical mystery.

From the outset Magic is a book that sets itself out as a serious work of Urban Fantasy for adults. Ivy is not a functional woman, she has more demons than a first edition of the Necronomicon. She has mummy issues, daddy issues and certainly sister issues. With no money she is pretty much forced to take the case of a magical gruesome death. We get to glimpse this death – a magic user cleaved in two by an apparent misjudged spell. This is not Harry Potter, but it could be a follow up for the now adult readers of that series.

Writing about teenagers always runs the risk of making the book feel like Juvenile Literature. As this is a book about a PI, Gailey neatly side steps the problem. Or at least that should be the case. Ivy is a thirty something dropout with substance abuse problems; all very adult. Therefore, it is a little disappointing that so much of the story takes place inside her head, which appears to be the mind of a teenager. For a professional investigator she has a lot of angst. To some readers this will develop sympathy for the characters. For me, it made me question whether Ivy was ever a competent investigator in the first place.

The PI is often a flaky protagonist, but here the angst is turned up to 11. It may be that reconnecting with her sister forces Ivy to regress to a teen version of herself, or that just that the character is not written quite right. With Ivy being the focus of the book, the fact that she falls apart so easily is a shame.

Elsewhere, there are interesting elements to the book. The idea that Ivy enters a magical school and does not tell anyone that she has no powers is good. She allows others to assume what they want and therefore gleans more information. The investigation itself is also a good one. There are some twists and the procedural elements are when Ivy is at her best. When being the investigator and not the human wreck, she is a compelling character.

For all its promises of being an adult book, it reads immaturely. This is not an issue with the setting, but the writing of its main character. Ivy has been through enough to have the mind of a broken adult, so why does she sound like a 13-year old writing in their diary? Science Fiction and Fantasy does quite often suffer from writing that aimed to young. Perhaps it is because I am getting older, but to me this felt like a teenage book with added sex and violence and make it seem more adult, but failing.

Written on 4th October 2019 by .

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