Magic for Liars by Sarah Gailey
Published: June 04, 2019
Publisher: Macmillan Audio
Genre(s): Mystery, Fantasy
Length: 9 hours and 23 minutes
Magic for Liars has a very cool cover, but I think it led me astray. I was expecting something a bit more dynamic based on that design and the book’s excellent title, but the resulting story was only competent and a bit unexciting. I did like the book well enough, and would definitely be game for reading work by Sarah Gailey – I’ve seen raves for just about everything they’ve ever written – but maybe I’d prefer the ones about carnivorous hippos?
Ivy Gamble is a private detective who drinks too much and has no magical abilities. That last part is a problem because her estranged sister, Tabitha, is such a magical savant that she is a beloved teacher at Osthorne, a local academy for thaumaturgically gifted youths. Osthorne is sort of like an American Hogwarts with far less world-building and shittier teenagers.
When a suspicious death happens on school grounds, Ivy is hired to investigate what many believe to be a murder even though the gruesome crime was ruled an accident or possibly suicide. Ivy gets the gig both because she brings an outsider perspective and because her sister recommends her for the job.
The thing about Ivy is that she is filled with self-loathing and jealousy at her lot in life, so when people at the academy assume that she is magical like her sister, she doesn’t correct them. She can’t help slipping into an alternate, imagined version of her life where she grew up with abilities just like her sister, pretending to be some other, better version of herself.
At its heart, this book is about lies and secrets, but it’s not really about magic. I feel like you could tell almost the same story at a regular private school and all you would miss is a bit of weird flavor here and there. I think that’s why it didn’t quite land for me.
I’m sure it didn’t help that I probably came in expecting magic systems based on lying or characters who are pathological rather than a main character who really just skates along on a white lie. Also, the crime wasn’t exciting or surprising enough to elevate the book above its otherwise standard ingredients.
I listened to the audiobook narrated by Xe Sands, who has the perfect dry, world-weary tone for a sad-sack gumshoe like Ivy Gamble. I’ve previously enjoyed her narration on books like Acceptance by Jeff Vandermeer and Wanders by Chuck Wendig, and I would say that she’s definitely one of the better narrators out there. I think much of my enjoyment of the book stemmed from her performance of the character.