Magic for Liars

“Magic for Liars,” by Sarah Gailey. Tor Books, 2019. 336 pages, $25.99.

For most of her life, Ivy Gamble has lived in her twin sister’s shadow. Tabitha was gifted with the ability to use magic. Ivy was not.

Tabitha teaches at a prestigious school for young magic users, Osthorne Academy, while Ivy leads a much less glamorous life as a private investigator. Life isn’t particularly fulfilling for Ivy, but she gets by.

However, the two sisters’ worlds abruptly collide after a shocking death at Osthorne, and Ivy is called in to help investigate. The mystery will uncover secrets both at Osthorne and within Ivy’s own family, and Ivy must struggle to untangle the truth from a complex web of lies.

“Magic for Liars” by Sarah Gailey reads like what might happen if you crossed “Knives Out” with “Harry Potter,” and if that premise intrigues you, you’re probably going to have a great time reading this book.

“Magic for Liars” is, of course, a much grittier read than the Harry Potter series. It’s a lot harder to tell the heroes and villains apart, and pretty much every character has a little darkness inside of them. That’s what makes it so challenging for Ivy to figure out who the murderer is. Lots of people at Osthorne have reasons to keep secrets, and these secrets relate to the murder in unexpected ways.

While I love a good whodunit, a mystery is, in the end, only as good as its characters, and there are many interesting people to be found within the pages of “Magic for Liars.”

Ivy is a sympathetic narrator; she most definitely doesn’t have her act together, and we can empathize with the resentment she has for her situation. It would be difficult to grow up with a sibling who has magical powers, and to constantly feel as though you are being excluded or looked at as less accomplished.

Ivy tries to work through this past resentment as she attempts to solve the case, though saying whether she ultimately achieves these goals would be spoiling the ending.

As you would expect in a mystery, there is more to most of the characters than you gather when you first meet them. This isn’t a mystery painted in black and white; there are many shades of gray here, with people making questionable choices due to motivations that aren’t immediately obvious. No one really emerges from this story looking spotless.

Tabitha also was a fascinating character, for reasons that would be too spoiler-y to get into here. She’s a character with many layers, and her relationship with Ivy — and to the murder case — is a main reason why this book was so fascinating to read.

While many people think it might be “cool” or “fun” to have the ability to use magic, this book shows the darker side of those powers. Some characters try to use their magic to help people, but it goes horribly wrong. Others have learned how to use their magic to manipulate their peers. Ivy learns that maybe having magic isn’t as much of a gift as she thought.

I will say that the ending to this mystery didn’t necessarily blow me away, but I enjoyed the journey to get there, and I would love to read more magical noir from this author. The blending of two genres makes the novel a more intriguing read than it might be otherwise.

I’m a little surprised the book wasn’t longer, because I feel the author could have made the story even deeper and even more complicated, and readers would have gladly gone along for the ride.

Ashley Pauls is the assistant director of communications at the K-State Alumni Association.

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