Magic for Liars by Sarah Gailey was published on June 4th, 2019 by Tor Books.
Death - Gore - Violence - Alcohol Use (And Abuse) - Medical Magic - Perception Altering Magic - Abortion - Terminal Cancer - Chosen One
Book Cover (w/credit)
Magic for Liars takes place in a quiet town in Northern California where Ivy Gamble’s twin sister, Tabitha, teaches at a private academy.
Osthorne Academy for Young Mages, to be exact.
That’s right, Tabitha is a mage.
Ivy is not.
It’s a thing.
Ivy is, however, a private investigator hired by Osthorne Academy’s headmaster to look into the mysterious death of one of the staff members. A very gruesome, very strange death that is Hannibal-like in it’s bizarre display, but the headmaster isn’t convinced it’s an accident like the (magical) police report states.
When Ivy gets there her feelings of inadequacy and anger, both directed vaguely towards magic, but mostly toward her sister, ferment into a frothing, alcohol-fueled funk that clouds her judgement and causes enough second-hand embarrassment that I had to put the book down several times to pet my dog and recover.
Ivy isn’t the best at handling things like strong emotions or interpersonal relationships. She is, however, good at her job (when she’s sober enough to do it), and quickly becomes embroiled in staff politics, a student that may or may not be a Chosen One (prophesies are vague like that), and a potential murder mystery.
I GIVE MAGIC FOR LIARS THREE AND A HALF STARS OUT OF FIVE FOR THE DYNAMIC RELATIONSHIPS AND SEX POSITIVITY.
This is a quick, engaging read that involves family issues, grief, and a dead body.
I was really impressed with the general sex-positivity in the story and candid discussion of birth control.
Honestly? I would have liked more magic. Less angsting about it and more delving into how it works in this context and what the limits/possibilities are. I want to get into someone else’s head, but that’s not this book. This is Ivy’s non-magical point of view and that works, too. She’s not magical, which is one of the linchpins of the plot, but she is the one who solves the mystery of what happened.
My favorite quote of the story is a two-parter...the second of which may be mildly character-developmentally spoilery…so keep that in mind.
“The thing about me is, I let things go. I let people go. I don’t know how to hang on to them - I try, but I hold too tight or not tight enough or something in between and they go. They always go.”
Ivy and her sister aren’t on the best of terms. After Tabitha went off to magic school when they were teens, leaving Ivy behind, their interactions became more strained, and then after the death of their mother they stopped trying to develop any relationship they might have once had. Ivy’s entire emotional and relational essence is stunted by this combination of events. But her projecting finally comes to a head when she realizes:
“People don’t stick, I thought, that old bruise I couldn’t stop pressing. But pressing htat bruise didn’t give me the same sense of satisfied, aching relief that it was supposed to.
Because it wasn’t people who didn’t stick.
It was me.”
Ivy realizes she’s the one who needs to mature and take charge of her life if she’s going to have any kind of authentic relationship with her sister. She’s going to have to let go of her teenaged feelings of anger and abandonment and work on herself. This kind of personal growth is revelatory for a character like Ivy, and I can get behind that kind of realization.
Hugo award winner Sarah Gailey is an internationally published writer of fiction and nonfiction. Their nonfiction has been published by Mashable and the Boston Globe, and they are a regular contributor for Tor.com and Barnes & Noble. Their most recent fiction credits include Fireside Fiction, Tor.com, and The Atlantic. Their debut novella, River of Teeth, was published in 2017 via Tor.com and was a 2018 Hugo and Nebula award finalist. Their adult novel debut, Magic For Liars, was published by Tor Books in June 2019. Their Young Adult novel debut, When We Were Magic, will be published by Simon Pulse in Spring 2020.
Girl. Put down the bottle.
That’s the advice I’d give to PI Ivy Gamble.
Is drunk PI a stereotype beyond Jessica Jones? It seems like a stereotype because I’m getting some very Jonesy vibes from Ivy and her liquid coping mechanism.
But when she’s not hitting the bottle (and sometimes when she is), PI Ivy Gamble spends a lot of the story griping about magic.
She’s frustrated that her twin sister uses magic to make herself look better. She’s mad that students fritter away their talents with minor spells and dick-shaped clouds, and she’s pissed that no one used it to stop her mother from dying.
Ivy has a lot of anger issues, some of them external, but a fair bit directed internally as well.
She’s a mess.
And it takes her a long while to get her shit together enough to actually do some crime-solving.
Which isn’t to say she’s oblivious to what’s going on around her. I find the intentionality of her body positioning, her assessments of others, and the way she presents herself to be cunning. It’s just her self esteem that could use an overhaul.
The endless whinging and self-medicating is a downer.
Also, what’s up with the secretary?! She’s THE MOST POWERFUL HEALER ON EARTH and she’s just, what? Enjoying her second retirement and casually exploding shoulders?
Feels a bit too much like a plot device rather than a fully-fleshed out character.
Which isn’t to say I’m mad at the book so much as I’m mad there’s not a sequel in the works. Maybe from Tabitha’s point of view?
Only Tabitha kinda screwed herself out of getting to mentor “The Chosen One,” so that’s a bummer.