Hello Humans! I know, as readers, we’re pretty fed up with the Harry Potter comparisons at this point. I’m fairly sure I’ve read more ‘this is Harry Potter for adults’ than I ever thought possible – and none of them were great. With that in mind, I went into Magic for Liars with a little bit of trepidation – and, while it had about as much to do with HP as cheese has to do with the Glaswegian railway system it was a great read!
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.
Content warning: abortion, gore.
When I think about the composite parts of this book, my gut says it shouldn’t work. The idea of a book that mixes a gritty noir-adjacent murder and a fairly accurate depiction of a high school* – which is also magic? It shouldn’t work….but it does. Somehow, and I suspect a deal with a witch, Sarah Gailey has managed to balance these disparate parts into a book that simultaneously fits into several genres.
*I obviously can’t say whether or not this book is an accurate depiction of an American High School, I more mean the atmosphere of being in school – I’ll go into more detail later.
I think one of the strengths of this book is the main character, Ivy. While she has a lot of the cliché personality traits of a noir PI (a penchant for booze and a ‘down on my luck’ attitude) they manage to not feel overdone within the framework of the story. I think part of that lies in the way this book brings in the fantasy world. The fact that Ivy has to deal with being non-magical in comparison to her sister makes so much sense and is a fresh take on the ‘worst sibling becomes a PI’ trope.
We should talk about the magic school – because that’s always fun. While the school is really the setting for a murder mystery you still manage to pick up on a lot of detail about how magic (and a magical education) works in this world. I loved the idea of the different ways in which you could study magic (notably the difference between theoretical and practical magic). It’s definitely treated similarly to science which certainly works in the modern High School setting. While this book doesn’t go quite so far as, for example, Tempests and Slaughter, where you get class schedules and such, you do get a good sense of what it might be like to be a student at this school.
I thought that it was a remarkable depiction of what that kind of teenage-centred environment is like. Right at the start, there are lockers plastered with magical graffiti reading ‘Emily is a Slut’. So rarely do things truly capture that unique mix of insecurity and spite you get when you’re a teenager. I will say, as someone who had a less-than-awesome time at secondary school I did some internal cringing! I also appreciated that this book went into some of the issues that girls in any school can face but we prefer not to talk about because we’d rather pretend they don’t happen.
On to the other aspect of the book – the murder mystery! As you may know, I don’t read a huge number of detective novels, but I do watch a lot of crime television so I feel like I have a handle on the storytelling aspect of the genre. I thought this was a genuinely interesting plot, with just the right amount of subversion and misdirection for things to stay interesting. I personally enjoy both being able to predict the killer and being totally surprised by it – and somehow this book managed to do both?
I think this book is an ideal palate cleanser book. If you’re feeling a little stuck in what you’re reading and want to mix it up – I can’t think of a better example of a mix! If I had to nitpick I’d maybe say that it’s a little too short to truly get into some of the different plot elements, in particular the romance comes on very quickly – but I also recognise that a shorter book can be a really good thing, and I’m not certain I would have wanted more time spent on things like the romance when there were so many other things going on!
Would I recommend this? Absolutely. Fair warning – you need a bit of a strong stomach at times! I think this book is just wonderful and, more than anything else, I had a great time reading it – and that’s the most important thing!
My rating: 4/5 stars
I received a free copy of this book from the publisher. All opinions are my own.
Magic for Liars is out now!
What say you? Will you be adding this book to your TBR? Let me know your thoughts in the comments below!