Magic for Liars by Sarah Gailey
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
If Alice Hoffman and JK Rowling had a novel lovechild, that book might be Hugo Award-winning writer Sarah Gailey's novel debut, Magic for Liars. I thoroughly enjoyed this book.
When we first meet Ivy Gamble, she's busy being mugged and getting slashed accidentally in the arm by her clumsy mugger's knife. Her day only goes downhill from there. That's really saying something considering she gets hired for the biggest paycheck job of her career as a private investigator. The job comes with all sorts of feelings.
Set mainly at a magical high school called Osthorne Academy in Northern California, we see Ivy trying to solve a strange murder case that's already been investigated by the National Mage Investigative Service, i.e., the magical police. She's hired, in spite of their findings, by Osthorne's headmaster, Marion Torres. The job is further complicated by the fact that Ivy's very magical sister Tabitha teaches at the school. Ivy, you see, drew the short straw in the magical lottery, and Tabitha got (in theory) all the smarts, luck, and magical talent in the family. Ivy has been getting by as a PI (mainly marital infidelity cases) who drinks a bit too much and makes it a habit of never possibly outstaying her welcome by always being the first to leave. Especially in relationships.
The murder victim in question was one Sylvia Capley, a faculty member beloved by the students, and, also as we come to see, by some of the faculty. So who magically bisected Sylvia, and how did she end up in the library bleeding out, in the theoretical magic section, with all its perpetually murmuring books and their running, yet hard to grasp, commentary? And will this investigation spell the beginning of recapturing the sisterly bond between twins Ivy and Tabitha or will it be the final straw in their frayed sisterhood? Because ever since Tabitha sailed off to magical Headley, an elite academy for magically talented students up in Portland, Oregon, leaving Ivy dealing with their dying mother and grieving father, things have been tense between these two sisters. Ivy is full to the brim with unspoken blame and not a wee bit of jealousy. She regards Tabitha, who briefly comes home when their mom is dying with all kinds of magical cosmetic and personality boosts, as cold, callous, and abandoning. Was Tabi just not able to deal with their mom, or is Ivy's sad, angry assessment spot on?
Gailey has woven a mystery that is just a tad less interesting than the many memorable characters living in this practical/suburban magic world. Her complex portrait of sister love, jealousy, competition, and loyalty shines in this novel. I loved the book and I wonder if there is still more she can tell us about Ivy and Tabitha? Because I would enjoy learning more about this world!
Content Warning: This book takes a definite stance on a woman's right to choice (an stance I 100% agree with), but this is a point I both want to applaud, and apprise readers about, simultaneously.
A strong debut novel that is sure to be lauded and nominated for awards in its genre.
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