Magonia by Maria Dahvana Headley

June 15, 2015 Reviews 4 ★★★★★

Magonia by Maria Dahvana HeadleyMagonia (Magonia #1) by Maria Dahvana Headley
Published: April 28th 2015 by HarperCollins
Format: ARC, 320 pages
Genres: Fantasy
Source: Publisher
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5 Stars

Aza Ray is drowning in thin air.

Since she was a baby, Aza has suffered from a mysterious lung disease that makes it ever harder for her to breathe, to speak—to live.

So when Aza catches a glimpse of a ship in the sky, her family chalks it up to a cruel side effect of her medication. But Aza doesn't think this is a hallucination. She can hear someone on the ship calling her name.

Only her best friend, Jason, listens. Jason, who’s always been there. Jason, for whom she might have more-than-friendly feelings. But before Aza can consider that thrilling idea, something goes terribly wrong. Aza is lost to our world—and found, by another. Magonia.

Above the clouds, in a land of trading ships, Aza is not the weak and dying thing she was. In Magonia, she can breathe for the first time. Better, she has immense power—and as she navigates her new life, she discovers that war is coming. Magonia and Earth are on the cusp of a reckoning. And in Aza’s hands lies the fate of the whole of humanity—including the boy who loves her. Where do her loyalties lie?

Magonia is one of the most beautiful books I’ve had the pleasure of reading in a long time. The prose, the characters, the world-building, everything about it is simply gorgeous.

Ava has drowned in air her whole life. Born with a mysterious lung disease that makes it hard for her to breathe, she’s a walking, talking miracle, a professional patient with a history of hospitals. Ava refuses to be seen as weak, seen as an invalid, so she’s witty, caustically sarcastic, full of spark, and alive in a way most people aren’t. Maybe it’s because she’s living on borrowed time, but Ava stands out, not because of her pale skin and blue lips and episodes that send her to the hospital. Ava shines, and I loved her.

Her best friend is Jason. Jason is made of facts, facts he recites constantly to Ava to distract from her illness. Jason sees what most people can’t – sees beyond the veneer of “invalid”. He’s also eccentric and needs pills to keep himself calm. Most of his anxiety stems from his concern about Ava, concern that he thinks he hides from her. I loved the banter between them. They understand one other so well that it doesn’t need to be said, it’s felt in everything they say to each other.

Magonia has two parts: the Before, and the After. The Before part is hilarious and heart-breaking at the same time. Ava tells us about her illness and hospital trips using a mix of sarcasm and humour and I found myself giggling throughout it all, even while feeling desperately sorry for her and dreading where the story was going. Because I knew where it was going, and it wasn’t going to be pretty. Ava and Jason slowly start to explore the attraction that’s been growing between them, only to have their worlds turned upside down. Ava is ripped away from his world, from our world, and taken into a fantastical world of flying ships, hybrid birds and magic.

If you look at the sky that way, it’s this massive shifting poem, or maybe a letter, first written by one author, and then, when the earth moves, annotated by another. So I stare and stare until, one day, I can read it.

Magonia, the unbelievable world of sky dwellers who steal crops and livestock from Earth to survive. Winged, beaked, and feathered, these are a race of bird-hybrids, beautiful and terrible at the same time. Their songs hold a magic – powerful enough to change water into sand. Powerful enough to threaten our world.

It was beautiful! It reminded me a little of The Cloud Hunters by Alex Shearer, it had the same unbelievable world-building that one can’t help but fall in love with.

Although undeniably gorgeous, the After section of the book is very different to the Before parts. Ava loses some of her snark – it was the coping mechanism of a girl who was dying, and in Magonia, she’s no longer that girl. Ava keeps thinking she’s crazy, that it’s all a hallucination, but she tries to make the best of it all the same. I thought it was a remarkably natural reaction to her situation: she didn’t believe in flying ships, sky whales, and bird-hybrids, but confronted with them and unable to deny their truth, she tries to adjust to her new reality. It’s made harder for her because the Captain of the ship, Zal Quel, is her mother, and Ava apparently has a destiny to fulfil: she has to save the Magonians from a hidden danger.

While the human characters in Ava’s life were dimensional and interesting, I thought the Magonians were bland, weird magic and feathers aside. Zal Quel is the most difficult character in the novel. Her motivations don’t make sense to me and her character seemed under-developed. I hope we get to find out more in the sequel (because there has to be a sequel!). Similarly, Dai, the ship’s First Mate and Ava’s singing partner, is basically the super hot guy with a tortured past. He doesn’t get to grow beyond that, and it’s disappointing.

But the brilliance of Magonia is in its writing. It’s exquisite and lyrical, and will sweep readers away from the first page. This is an intense book, rich humour wrapped in vivid darkness, that offers something unique. It’s not a teen-dying-of-illness book, no matter how much one compares it to The Fault in our Stars, but it’s enchanting all the same, and I think you’d be disappointed if you didn’t check it out.

4 Responses to “Magonia by Maria Dahvana Headley”

  1. Micheline @ Lunar Rainbows Reviews

    Gorgeous review Shaheen! I have yet to crack open my copy of this one but your review has certainly motivated me to do so sooner rather than later. The way you described the stunning writing style, characters and the world-building sounds truly wonderful. We’ll have to compare notes once I get to it 🙂

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