Adrienne Martini Reviews Magic for Liars by Sarah Gailey

Magic for Liars, Sarah Gailey (Tor 978-125-017461-1, $25.99, 336pp, hc) June 2019. Cover by Will Staehle.

Sarah Gailey’s Magic for Liars falls on the Lev Grossman’s The Magicians side of the magic schools continuum. Osthorne Academy is less Hogwarts and more Brakebills but with a touch of the former’s whimsy. That doesn’t make Magic for Liars a derivative work that lacks a fresh touch. This is a well that is only so deep, and once you’ve decided to draw from it, the comparison is inevitable.

Ivy Gamble is a private detective in the Bay Area. Most of her cases involve cheating spouses and insurance fraud, which she’s accepted because she’s good at what she does. Torres, the Osthorne principal, pays Ivy a call and convinces her to investigate a murder that took place in the school’s library. Ivy isn’t surprised by Osthorne’s mention of magic, because Ivy’s estranged twin sister Tabitha is an instructor at the school – and said sister’s magical abilities are what drove a wedge between them years ago.

On this investigation’s bones, Gailey hangs a story about the lines between truth and lies and about the legacy of bitterness. Ivy makes for a compelling narrator, too, even if some of the twists are too well telegraphed. No matter, really, because Gailey’s voice, which burns brightly in her American Hippo stories, carries the action well. It feels like this book could kick off a new series, which would be a welcome addition to the magic schools universe.

Adrienne Martini has been reading or writing about science fiction for decades and has had two non-fiction, non-genre books published by Simon and Schuster. She lives in Upstate New York with one husband, two kids, and one corgi. She also runs a lot.

This review and more like it in the June 2019 issue of Locus.

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