If you, like me, are a fan of magical worlds grounded in contemporary life, “Magic for Liars” should be on your to-read list. It’s a book that will appeal to fans of Lev Grossman’s “The Magicians” series because it shares its real world versus world of magic setting and respect for the dangerous consequences of magic gone wrong.
But it doesn’t center on a grumpy male teenager’s point of view. Instead, Gailey builds a world populated with diverse and realistic adult and teen characters and shows us its magic through the perspective of a pansexual private investigator.
Ivy Gamble lives in a world where mages exist, but the knowledge is passed around like an open secret. The only reason her sister Tabitha learned about her magical skills and place in magical society was that a teacher in elementary school happened to see her do magic and happened to be a mage.
As a twin, Ivy grew up feeling uniquely apart from her sister, who seemed to be the golden child. Ivy held the knowledge that magic exists but not the aptitude to wield it. The fact that her sister barely came home when their mother died of aggressive cancer didn’t help.
Ivy and Tabitha haven’t talked in years. Ivy is barely getting by as a P.I. in Oakland, California, while her sister teaches up the coast in the Osthorne Academy for Young Mages.
When a teacher at the school is gruesomely killed – or kills herself – using advanced magic, Ivy’s unique outsider’s knowledge of the magical world is the thing that leads the headmaster to offer her the job of doing an investigation into the circumstances of the death.
Now Ivy is trying to prove herself in her job. She’s also trying to convince her inner child that she is worthy of being on an equal level with these teachers and students who treat magic with casual normalcy, and not searing envy.
The school itself is written with a sense of the quotidian mixed with wonder – the tropes of magical schools are in there, and the meta-jokes about Harry Potter and prophecies of one boy being a Chosen One. There’s a real sense of yearning, loss and unresolvable grief that Ivy feels as she has to question her sister, tries to stay objective, and then can’t help but bring up personal things having to do with the death of their mother. A subplot with a flirtation between her and one of the teachers adds real warmth and joy in what is a pretty dark story.
I won’t say too much about the central mystery because it’s better to read it and let it unfold. So discover for yourself what this gritty and imaginative mystery has to offer.
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