Magic for Liars Review: Cliques, Crimes, and Gambles

By JoshuaMacDougall on

About JoshuaMacDougall

Joshua (He/Him) is a contributor and writer for the Reading section of Geekly.
He is an enthusiast for fantasy novels, tabletop games, and wrestling.
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Private investigation isn’t an easy job, and no one knows this better than Ivy Gamble. When we meet her in Sarah Gailey’s Magic for Liars, her investigations mostly involve cheating spouses. She finally catches a break when she is hired for a murder investigation at a high school, and for a hefty sum at that. The problem is the case comes with a lot of baggage for Ivy. Osthorne Academy is a prestigious school for wizards and witches, one her twin sister Tabitha got to go to as a kid. Tabitha had a gift for magic; Ivy had none. This, among other things, has driven a wedge between them. A wedge Ivy might have to address, considering Tabitha still teaches at that school.

Ivy drinks a little too much, doesn’t take care of herself, and doesn’t think much of herself. You learn quickly in her introduction she has such little self-worth that she doesn’t give a damn about her own mugging. Within two chapters, Ivy tells us precisely what she thinks of herself and life in general. She “wasn’t special,” nor does she “have time for an existential crisis” when her life has been threatened because “bad things just happen sometimes.” Ivy may not think a lot of herself, but I sure do. Her character isn’t the chosen one, she’s not exceptionally successful at her job as a private investigator, she wasn’t the favorite child of her parents, and her life isn’t exactly great. That’s all the more reason I love her character. Despite everything negative I’ve mentioned about Ivy Gamble, Private Investigator, she still manages to be ever so charming and worthy of acclaim.

Part of the reason you’ll want to cheer her on is despite her low self-worth, she does have a knack as a P.I. Ivy is both cunning and perceptive; when she shows off these skills after we’ve seen her so low, it makes us want to root for her so she can see herself the way we do. The other part of the reason is since Ivy has no magical capabilities, she also can be perceived as the underdog in her investigation. She knows nothing of the world of magic due to the rift between her and her sister. Ivy Gamble is the outsider having to experience a whole new world while at the same time trying to solve a murder in it. Throughout, Ivy wonders what her life would have been like had she the gift of magic. In this way, magic serves a solid metaphor for privilege.

It is, however, still magic, and this high school is no Hogwarts. Though it is a prestigious private school, it’s a real enough high that you and I along can picture our high school selves attending along with Tabitha. This assuredly comes with its own baggage, depending on who is reading this book. Because of this, the mystery becomes real to us. A murder in a school that resembles a Victorian boarding school means little to us nowadays. This school treads familiar grounds: dating, cliques, secrets, and hierarchies based on popularity. It’s why Ivy, though she’s self-aware enough to know it’s not worth the pain, can imagine what her life might have been like had she attended the school.

Ivy also likes to imagine what her relationship might have been like with her sister Tabitha if they hadn’t grown apart. The relationship, or lack thereof, between the two sisters, is the most critical part of the novel. When we’re rooting for Ivy, we’re rooting for her to regain that closeness with her sister they had when they were young before Tabitha went to magic school. Ivy wants it more than anything, and in turn, we want it too. All of this becomes connected. The murder, the magic, the high school students, and Ivy and Tabitha’s past and present relationship all come together to make this modern noir mystery that plays with the tropes of life in high school and magical schools. Sarah Gailey’s novel reads quick, and the ending arrives before you know it. Magic for Liars left me wanting more of Ivy Gamble, Private Investigator, and more for her in this other life of magic. 

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