Magic for Liars by Sarah Gailey
Publication date: 01 July 2019
Genre: Contemporary fantasy
Page count: 331 pages
Rating: 3 out of 5 stars
I received a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review. This review is spoiler-free.
Magic for Liars is a book that seemed like it captured all of my interests — it’s set at a magic school in my home state of California and features a murder mystery that our non-magical private investigator must solve. Although I liked Magic for Liars well enough, it didn’t quite meet my high expectations.
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.
I think my primary issue with this book is it felt just the slightest bit underwhelming in almost every sense. To start with, the setting wasn’t quite as interesting as I had hoped. I was especially excited about the fact that the book is set in my beloved California, however it didn’t have any of that California flavour I had hoped for — this book could have really been set anywhere. I liked the fact that the school was set up like any regular high school, but I was hoping for a little bit more in terms of world building. Maybe I’ve been spoiled by Harry Potter and other contemporary fantasy books, but I was really hoping to learn more about the school itself, how magic actually worked (rather than a ‘it’s too complicated to really explain’ dismissal), and what students go on to do after they graduate. Why do regular people like you and me not know about magic? What impact does magic have on the world? For me, there were so many more questions than answers, resulting in a very lackluster setting and world.
The mystery at the heart of Magic for Liars was fine, but again I wanted just that little bit more. Gailey did a great job of building up tension and dropping clues, however the resolution fell flat — I found myself thinking ‘that’s it?’. Of everything that felt lackluster in this book, this is the one thing that I feel could have been intentional — although I can’t explain why because of spoilers — but if that is the case then I don’t think the mystery was executed as effectively as it could have been.
Ivy is a fine character — she’s a great take on the archetypal tired, antisocial alcoholic detective. Her bitterness and denial over her lack of magical ability was so visceral and I really felt those emotions. I have to say that I was expecting a little more from her relationship with her sister Tabitha. I really love the push and pull of strained sibling relationships in fiction and felt a little let down by how hands-off they both were in their relationship. Like everything else in this book, it go so close to achieving something really interesting and great but ultimately fell flat. There was a missed opportunity here for some great sibling dynamics.
Overall, I liked Magic for Liars well enough — it’s a fun spin on the magic school trope — however I wasn’t blown away by this book. I think it had the potential to be really fantastic and just didn’t quite hit the mark. It’s a short book and I feel that another 50-70 pages would have gone a long way to adding more dimension, tension, and excitement to the plot.
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