Review: Magic for Liars – Ivy Gamble is Not Magic and She Wants Everyone to Know


Title: Magic for Liars
Author: Sarah Gailey
Publisher: Tor Books
Release Date: June 4th, 2019
Genre(s): Fantasy, Mystery
Subjects and Themes: Siblings, Mental Health, LGBTQIAP+ (Secondary)
Page Count: 336 (hardback)

Rating: 5.0/10

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Ivy Gamble was born without magic and never wanted it.

Ivy Gamble is perfectly happy with her life – or at least, she’s perfectly fine.

She doesn’t in any way wish she was like Tabitha, her estranged, gifted twin sister.

Ivy Gamble is a liar.

When a gruesome murder is discovered at The Osthorne Academy of Young Mages, where her estranged twin sister teaches Theoretical Magic, reluctant detective Ivy Gamble is pulled into the world of untold power and dangerous secrets. She will have to find a murderer and reclaim her sister―without losing herself.



I think this book would save people a lot of disappointment if it came with a disclaimer. Something like “NOTE: The magical boarding school featured in this story is actually pretty ordinary and the characters spend more time talking about the theories of magic than actually doing magic.” Though personally, I wasn’t too bummed out by the lack of magic. In the first half I was still interested in the mystery and the MC, so I didn’t mind that there weren’t moving staircases and people lighting things on fire. And in the second half I was too caught up in other–bigger–issues to really care.

Yeah. Safe to say this was a disappointment for me.

It starts out very strong (I mean, a book that opens up with a scene straight out of Hannibal has my full attention) and it ends on a…strange and depressing note that I still don’t know how I feel about (though I have a feeling I’ll eventually land at “I didn’t like it”). But it’s mostly the middle bits that I had a problem with. And a lot of those problems link back to the protagonist.

Ivy Gamble was a trying narrator for me. Think Jessica Jones with all her psychological baggage minus the snark. And I was sympathetic in the beginning. I can imagine how bitterly disappointing it would be to watch your sibling discover their magical abilities and get accepted to an elite magic academy while you’re sitting on the sidelines reconciling with the fact that you’re not magical and this incredible new world is off-limits to you. I understand how that can shape the rest of your life.

But I don’t need to be reminded of it every other page.

Ivy goes out of her way to let the readers know that, hey, she’s not magic. Did you know she’s not magic? Bet you forgot she’s not magic since the last time she told you she wasn’t magic.

*taps on mic* An important announcement: IVY GAMBLE IS NOT MAGIC.

If you haven’t noticed, I love–for the lack of a better adjective–tortured characters in stories. Characters carrying scars that they can’t bear to look at but can’t help but prod. But when all that mental turmoil overpowers the rest of the narrative–plot, side characters, setting–the result feels less like a story and more like a one-sided therapy session. And that was more or less my experience with Magic for Liars. The mystery would start to get interesting but then Ivy would start comparing Nonmagic Ivy (her current self) to magic Ivy (a theoretical version of herself) and musing about how the latter would do so much better in this and such situation, and that would pull me right out of the story.

And this is more of a general complaint that I’m throwing out into the fictional ether, but I’m a little tired of private eye stories where the protagonist is an emotional mess and drinking constantly. I understand that that’s part of the noir aesthetic–cigarettes and gin and staring out the window in contemplation of the fatality of life– and, yes, there’s often a romantic allure to it, but for once I would like to see a well-adjusted PI who chooses to abstain from heavy drinking because it interferes with their work. A happy (or happier) noir, you know?

This book is not a happy noir, though, so if you’re looking for a twisty mystery with magical school shenanigans, you’re better off looking elsewhere. If you want a simple narrator-driven mystery with a lot of diversity and a LOT of heavy introspection, then well, it doesn’t hurt to try!



Review copy provided by the publisher in exchange for an honest review

49 thoughts on “Review: Magic for Liars – Ivy Gamble is Not Magic and She Wants Everyone to Know

  1. sjhigbee says:

    Thank you for a really helpful, enjoyable review. I’ll be honest – I’m not surprised. While I loved the idea of the wild west hippos – I kept thinking that Gailey could have written a more engrossing book featuring them, so I had already decided that I wouldn’t be reading any more of her work. Sorry you found this one a disappintment, though:(.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. evelynreads1 says:

    Sad that tis was a disappointment, it sounds really good but i keep seeing not so great reviews for it.. I might just check it out from the library once it’s there!


    Liked by 1 person

  3. @lynnsbooks says:

    So, to be clear, Ivy doesn’t do magic?? lol
    Great review – I did look at this one but decided to behave, although I still haven’t read this author so I was curious – I hate to admit it, it’s so fickle sounding – but, the cover didn’t grab me. I know.
    Lynn 😀

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Sophie @ Me and Ink says:

    It’s a shame you didn’t enjoy this book and I do hate when the book reminds you of something every other page— it loses it’s original impact that way and becomes a bit boring. So I can understand why that would be annoying. I don’t think this book is for me. Great review though. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Papertea and Bookflowers says:

    Oh god, I can’t stand book who remind me of something every other page! Like .. cut your readers some slack. I’m forgetful but not THAT forgetful!
    I’m sorry though you didn’t really enjoy this one. The concept sounds intriguing but I think I’ll stay clear of this now

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Sahi says:

    Ughhh… this sounded promising, but I completely agree with you that I want a non emotional mess of a person investigating stuff for once… Thanks for the wonderful review!!!

    Liked by 1 person

  7. tasya @ the literary huntress says:

    Thanks for the review, Kathy! I was initially interested in this book because someone mentioned it’s like Petunia and Lily from HP, but in alternate universe. But I agree, the narrator does sound like a trying character, I always hate it when characters keep reminding us of certain things; in most cases, it’s usually describing how gorgeous their love interest is or how quirky they are. In this book, it seems like the character can’t stop talking of how sad she was! I agree, I’m also tired with sad, tortured, alcoholic PI- this is one of the reason I don’t really read mystery.

    I hope your next read will be better!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Kathy @ Pages Below the Vaulted Sky says:

      Thanks, Tasya!! ❤ YES, the sisters really do remind of Petunia and Lily! And I was actually kind of disappointed that I didn't see them interact together more. I felt that is was more of a MC-focused story first, and sibling-relationship story second.

      I do want to see more amateur detective/PI stories with female leads, especially in YA, but all the ones I've read recently have been so…gritty and grim, and I just want something different in tone for a change.


  8. Sammie @ The Writerly Way says:

    Great review! Shame you didn’t like it, though. As you were describing it, I couldn’t help but think that the MC sounds an awful lot like Petunia Evans from Harry Potter. xD And you know what? I would LOVE a story that’s still noir-esque, but with an MC who, like, I don’t know, does yoga and chews too much gum or something silly instead of drinks, smokes, and feels miserable. 😛

    I have one final question, though: Is Ivy Gamble magic?!

    Liked by 1 person

  9. Dani @ Perspective of a Writer says:

    You totally made me laugh out loud! I can see this book is not for me either. It would drive me bonkers ❤️ My writing partner reads tons of mysteries and I join her when she really really loves one. But she really tries hard not to read the liquored up detectives! They are super annoying.

    Liked by 1 person

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