Magic for Liars, Sarah Gailey; Xe Sands, narrator (Macmillan Audio 978-1-25022786-7, $19.99, digital download, 9 hr., unabridged) June 2019.
Harry Potter is the person you want to be, but Ivy Gamble is the person you probably are. Ivy lives in a Potter-like version of Oakland, in the sense that magic, a magical bureaucracy, and a magical system of education all exist, largely unknown to those ungifted with magical ability. Ivy learned about magic when her twin sister Tabitha proved to have the gift as a child and went off to have a different life, without her. Present-day PI Ivy finds herself dragged into that life when the headmistress of an exclusive magic prep school hires her to solve the murder of Sylvia Capley, a teacher whose bisected body was discovered in the library. The mystery gradually focuses on two pairs of siblings: Ivy and her estranged sister Tabitha, a teacher at the school and Sylvia’s secret girlfriend; and Alexandria, the school’s queen bee and chief mean girl, and her half-brother Dylan, who believes himself to be the chosen one named in his family’s prophecy, destined to be the most powerful mage in history. As Ivy insinuates herself into the world of the school, she begins to see the life that she might’ve led if she’d had magic; her desperation to imagine herself in that life gets her into trouble when she finds herself powerfully attracted to another teacher at the school.
I always think of narrator Xe Sands as a character actress; yes, she has a repertoire of other voices, but it’s really her default voice – dry, intelligent, somewhat cynical, and perhaps a bit bruised by the world – that can truly bring a book to life. She is just perfect as Ivy, a fierce but damaged woman, a sharply perceptive, depressed alcoholic who perhaps hasn’t quite “lived up to her potential,” but who painfully learns, that fulfilling that potential can lead a person on a dangerous path.
I have always been fascinated by the idea of how magic might really intersect with the mundane: What could magic be or do when not set against supernatural problems to fix and supervillains to fight? I think Gailey’s hit that spot for me more precisely than anyone I’ve ever read or listened to. And the ending absolutely wrecked me. I plan to look and listen for future trope-shattering adventures.
This review and more like it in the October 2019 issue of Locus.
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