Mean Mages: Magic for Liars by Sarah Gailey

Magic for Liars by Sarah Gailey

One of the benefits of being a part of the vast SFF community is making great friends. One of the benefits of those great friends is the opportunity to read their books early. I consider myself fortunate to count Sarah Gailey among those friends. They’re smart, funny, dynamic, and have a range to their writing that few other authors can match. I had an opportunity to read their first novel a couple of years ago, back when it had a different title, and it’s not an exaggeration to say I’ve been on the edge of my seat WAITING until it was released ever since then so I could scream at everybody I know to read it. It’s out now, called Magic for Liars, I’ve read the final version, and, y’all, it’s GOOD.

(In the interest of full disclosure, I felt my previous involvement with the novel meant it would be in poor taste for me to review it for a professional venue—but, here on my blog, I can say whatever I want. So:


In Magic For Liars, you’ve got a murder (at a highschool for mages), a PI (Ivy Gamble, non-magical), a twin sister (Tabitha Gamble, magical), the world’s best healer, and enough teenage hormones and gossip to fill a couple seasons of Glee. It’s an intoxicating formula, and, in hands as sure as Gailey’s, absolutely compelling and impossible to put down. From Glee to Pitch Perfect to Harry Potter, I’ve been known to enjoy youthful school-centred drama, which Magic for Liars delivers on, but the way Gailey twists the usual tropes, by telling the story through the voice of of weary and jaded Ivy Gamble, Magic for Liars takes on a new perspective, and successfully mashes several sub-genres in a way I never quite knew I wanted.

Sylvia Capley, a teacher at Osthorne Academy for Young Mages, is dead and Ivy Gamble, a down on her luck private investigator is hired to find her murderer. Ivy’s investigation sweeps through the school, diving deep into the socio-politics of the students, and revealing many sides to the faculty. Gailey’s a master at characterization, and one of Magic For Liars‘ most impressive feats is not just how it manages to string the reader along for the mystery, but how it pulls at their heart strings as Ivy gets to know the Osthorne faculty and student body. This isn’t a book that relies on its whodunnit, but rather on the reader’s immediate and intense emotional connection to the characters connected to Syliva Copley. There’s laughter and tears, love, resentment, guilt, lust, and just about every other emotion you can think of jam packed into Magic for Liars‘ 336 pages.

“I never wanted to be magic,” Ivy tells the reader at the beginning of Chapter 3. That’s where the lies begin. One major theme throughout Magic for Liars is the way we try to warp the world—and our perception of ourselves—to fit our own narrative. We are ego, demanding the world bend to us. Throughout the book, Ivy says she’s unhappy with the decisions she makes, and, ultimately, the question comes down to how much she’s willing to open up and expose her vulnerabilities to those reaching out to her. Her relationship with her sister Tabitha is the beating heart of the story, more compelling even than the murder mystery (which isn’t a knock against the mystery—it’s got a thousand satisfying twists and turns, and one hell of a conclusion), and its balanced by Ivy’s labyrinthine growing relationships with the other characters—from school staff to the students to a hunky bartender who’s all ears. By the end of the book, you feel for Ivy, and you understand all the ways in which she’s broken, and maybe even understand why she’s told such lies.

One part Harry Potter, one part Veronica Mars, one part Mean Girls, and one part gin, Magic For Liars is a fun murder mystery that’ll also pull at your heartstrings. It’s an intimate portrait of loss and family, tragedy and the will to move on. Sarah Gailey’s a star on the rise, and Magic for Liars is only the first of many wonderful novels in their future.