There were so many buzz words in this book’s description that I knew I would read it soon after publication. Magic school, twins where one got all the magic and the other – though non-magical – became a private investigator, teenagers who are murder suspects. I mean, it sounded like the perfect mash-up of tropes and genres. And guess what! It delivered everything I had hoped for plus a little more.
MAGIC FOR LIARS
by Sarah Gailey
Published by: Tor, 2019
eBook: 336 pages
My rating: 8,5/10
First sentence: The library at Osthorne Academy for Young Mages was silent save for the whisper of the books in the Theoretical Magic section.
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.
Ivy Gamble is a PI with a pretty cliché life. She drinks too much, she discovers cheating wives and husbands, insurance fraud, the works. She’s lonely and she’s a little bitter. And then she gets robbed and her arm slashed open with a knife. As if that wasn’t enough for one evening, a new client walks into her office – the headmaster at the magic school where Ivy’s twin sister teaches – and offers her a job. A murder investigation, to be precise. And thus starts the kick-ass plot of this fantastic book!
It may be because I’m still waiting for that damn Hogwarts letter to arrive (at the ripe age of 33, mind you) but I immediately empathised with Ivy. Twin sisters, where one has magical abilities, gets to go to Osthorn Academy for Young Mages, and the other is… well, ordinary, and has to stick around to watch her mother die of cancer and her father psychologically wither away after her passing. No wonder she’s bitter, no wonder she’s got issues. I mean, who wouldn’t? But right from the start, Sarah Gailey also shows us that deep down, Ivy is a good person at heart. Her job may not exactly make her happy, but she is willing to do good. She wants to solve this murder case, although the magical authorities decided it was an accident.
Once Ivy arrives at Osthorne Academy, checks out the murder scene (a teacher cut exactly in half), and gets an apartment to stay at during the investigation, the subplots start. At a school for young mages, you naturally get teenage drama. Just with a little extra magic. There is the Queen Bee of the mean girls, there’s the weirdo kid who thinks he’s the Chosen One, there’s a decidedly sexy and friendly male teacher who keeps flirting with Ivy, there’s the headmaster’s secretary who is way overqualified for her job, and there are secrets. Secrets within secrets within secrets.
This book is essentially a murder mystery and it does the whole investigation thing so well that I would have been happy if that had been all. But Sarah Gailey adds many layers of depth to her characters and the story itself. Not only did she keep me on my toes trying to guess who the murder was and what their motive could have been (I had about 1000 theories, all of them wrong), but she also confronts her main character with her estranged twin sister and that’s a whole new can of worms. The reasons for their estrangement, for the alternating Christmases with dad, are more than just “you got all the magic and I got nothing”. Figuring out how these two women, who were quite close as girls, grew so far apart, was really exciting and at times emotionally difficult to read.
Ivy was a brilliant character throughout. Not only is she great at her job – baiting the people she interviews with just the right verbal cues to tell her what she needs to know, understanding when someone’s lying, and so on – but she’s also got so much depth. At first, you may think of her only as the non-magical half of the twins, but the more you read, the more obvious it becomes that regardless of magical abilities, Ivy has some problems to deal with. Her loneliness, her non-existent love life, her drinking, her bitter cynisism… but none of these things make her unlikeable and that’s what I found so fascinating. I kept rooting for her, I wanted her to make friends, to fall in love, to be happy!
Then there are the students and the teachers of Osthorne. Gailey focuses on a select few but they each felt like proper, real people. Sometimes, it was hard to understand why they did the things they did, what secrets they were really hiding. Is it just teenage drama like who’s going to magic prom with whom, or is there something more beneath the surface (spoiler alert: there’s totally more beneath the surface). The characters are all beautifully drawn and every time Ivy interviewed or talked to one of them, I caught myself trying to catch them in a lie – as if they were actual people talking to me and I could see in their eyes whether they were telling the truth.
Even the romance sub plot was well done. Granted, I was suspicious of everyone in this book, so I kept silently urging Ivy to be careful, not to let any information slip, no matter how hot the guy may be. But murder investigation and potential danger aside, I really liked how the relationships were handled in this book. Both between Ivy and Rahul and between Ivy and her sister Tabitha. In fact, Ivy’s and Tabitha’s relationship may have been the best part.
I love when an author makes me guess and theorize until the very end of a book and Sarah Gailey totally pulled that off. As I mentioned, all my theories (some of them crazy enough that they might just have worked) turned out to be wrong in the end. The realization only hit me when Ivy figured out the solution herself. It’s nice to spend 300 pages incorrectly guessing and to truly be surprised in the end. The ending, including the solution to the murder case, was also incredibly good. Ivy has grown as a person, all questions are answered, and although one thing is left open, the book closes on a note of hope.
MY RATING: 8,5/10 – Damn excellent!