Reviewed by Jowana Bueser
MAGIC FOR LIARS
By Sarah Gailey
336 pages. Tor Books.
Boozed. Bitter. Blasé.
Ivy Gamble, private investigator, needed a break but her past barreled into her instead. She has ploughed through her fair share of cocktails and has witnessed dreary bars gentrify into hipster pubs. She has eked out a living from the adulterous pursuits of people and the pile of lies has taken a toll on her. Marion Torres, headmaster of Osthorne, hired her to investigate a gruesome death in her school. Finally, a substantial case she could sink her detective teeth into; until she realized her estranged magical sister Tabitha teaches in Osthorne. There is neither a drink strong enough nor a magic spell potent enough to desensitize the pain of a past, in the flesh, staring straight at you.
Echoing strong elements of noir, Magic for Liars marks the arrival of Sarah Gailey as a novelist. Right off the first chapters, her strengths are apparent: she has a clear concept, a grasp of genres, and a taste for manipulating traditional expectations. Magic for Liars, despite the infusion of urban fantasy, actively recalls hardboiled crime fiction in its style and characteristics.
The tropes of hardboiled crime fiction are mostly present: the cynical investigator, the femme fatale, the good-natured characters, the complex plot, and the bleak view of humanity. But Gailey turned all these tropes on their heads. The jaded investigator gets gender-flipped. The femme fatale may or may not even be aware of her dangerous charms. The good-natured people have secrets to hide. The inclusion of magic adds more complexity to the plot. Humanity remains bleak but none bleaker than the human heart.
One other defining characteristic of noir is the feeling of hopelessness: the situation is dire and corrupt. In the case of Magic for Liars, the broken relationship of the sisters is the oppressive enclosure. The oppression is the past not the present. One of the best parts of the story is the reconnection of the sisters inside a bar. You root for their second chance at sisterhood. Ivy, a self-confessed human relationship Teflon, may have also found a possible lover. You also root for a happily ever after. Championing the happiness of Ivy Gamble is, apologies for the poor pun, a gamble for readers. She is such a grounded character. You can feel her deep pain; you can taste her stale tears; and you can smell her alcohol-soaked disappointments. The author infused her with so many layers that you hope each connection she makes lasts. But this is a tale of deception: the falsehoods are wrapped up in a fabrication inside a fiction. The truth is a puzzle and the pieces do not fit easily.
Now, once you finish reading the book, you start realizing the bold choices the author made. Underneath the magic and mystery are astute social commentaries. Surprisingly, healthcare, reproductive healthcare in particular, is a main plot point. Mages have incredibly human problems. Magic cannot simply make it disappear and only makes them slightly complicated than us mortals. In a manner, the magical element is almost incidental. There are ancient prophecies, chosen ones, and dark spells but the actual enchantment that pulls readers in is the disparate characters trapped in a tapestry of lies. Untangling these lies is the main course. Meeting the characters is the dessert. Ivy Gamble? She is both the strong tall drink and the bittersweet chaser. Drink up, readers.
Magic for Liars by Sarah Gailey will soon be available at Fully Booked. Email us to reserve your copy in advance.
Jowana applied as a research assistant for Hogwarts but was rejected because her natural sarcasm is considered a form of dark arts. She has since harnessed her powers working as a social media manager for almost a decade. Books keep her calm from the madness and the sameness of life. You can find her on Twitter @jowanabueser.
[Thoughts and views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Fully Booked. Then again, we love our authors anyway.]