Wednesday, 6 January 2016

Review: Magonia

Magonia Magonia by Maria Dahvana Headley
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Come for the wonderful voice (and attitude) of Aza Ray, the teenage narrator. Stay for a suspenseful plot, vivid characters, and fantastical worldbuilding.

This was one of those books that, while still partway through the sample, I knew I wanted to buy. It's difficult to create a truly original character voice, but this author pulls it off with Aza Ray. She even pulls it off again with Jason, Aza's best friend, though his voice is less distinctive (this shouldn't be taken as a criticism; most voices are less distinctive than Aza's).

There are all too few books that reflect the experience of chronic illness, what it's like not only for those who have it but for their friends and family. This book captures that experience wonderfully. Aza is by no means resigned to her fate, but she's realistic about it. She snarks entertainingly about her situation, but she's not in denial, or detached. Even if the plot had been less than it was, that alone would have got five stars from me. And Jason's devoted love for her, not hindered, but counterpointed, by his own issues, comes through beautifully.

On top of that, add a plot with skyships (invisible to our civilization, but raiding it under cover of storms), sung magic, bird people, bird familiars that nest in adepts' bodies, a corrupt flying city, proletarian rebellion, and a raid on the world seed repository in Spitzbergen. Most of those elements by themselves are not new or groundbreaking, but all together, and combined with the characters, they're wonderful.

Be it noted also: for the first time in my memory, I'm giving a HarperCollins book my "well-edited" tag. This is a tribute to the author, I'm sure, much as I'd like to think that that publisher has finally started taking copy editing seriously. I spotted only one typo, which is extremely rare (my average is a couple of dozen, across both trad-pub and indie books).

This is what YA should be like. In fact, this is what fiction should be like.

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