Review: Magic for Liars

Posted: April 3, 2020 by in Books We Don't Like (2/5 single_star) Meta: Sarah Gailey, Fantasy, Urban Fantasy

I used to just stop reading a book when I figured out I wasn’t going to like it. Ah, those were the days. These days, I find myself not only rationing toilet paper by the square and thinking more than twice about dashing over to Walmart for a single item, but also that I feel like I just have to finish everything I start reading. It’s a scarcity mentality. There just isn’t time anymore to go around reading 20 or 30 percent of a book and then bailing on it just because it doesn’t fit my fancy. How to find a way to know *ahead of time* whether I’m going to like a book or not though? Read other reviews before reading any books? That won’t exactly work out in my favor. Then I’m behind all the time. Any ideas? Any suggestions?

Not like it’ll help me now though. 🙂 Here we go!

MAGIC FOR LIARS (Amazon) tells a little tale about a private investigator named Ivy Gamble. She doesn’t do magic. Never has. Not like her gifted sister, Tabitha. Tabitha went to magic school. Tabitha had all the talent. Tabitha teaches at a magic school. Ivy doesn’t want to be like Tabitha. She might be lying about that though. So, when Ivy gets asked to investigate the death of one of the teachers at the very school where her sister Tabitha is a professor of Theoretical Magic, Ivy isn’t so sure she wants to take it. But she does. Even though she’s being hired to figure out if the death was a murder. She’s never investigated a murder before. And the magical police don’t think it was murder. And she doesn’t know the first thing about magic. Other than the fact that her sister does it. But what the heck. She’s all in.

This was a very… interesting read. And I absolutely have a funny tone to my voice when I say the word “interesting”. In all honesty, I think this story should have ended up being significantly better than it turned out to be. The very first thing I noticed about it was how much context seemed to be missing. I’m talking details. Stuff that makes a reader understand what’s going on. By about Chapter 3, I was feeling like about 40% of the story was just missing. Details about people, surroundings, applicability, connectivity. The whole nine yards. I mean, there was enough to be able to follow what was going on, but I always felt like I just wasn’t getting the whole picture. I spent essentially the whole story trying to figure out if this was done on purpose (because the MC is a “liar”, and thus she wants to keep me in the dark) or because it just wasn’t written very well. Kind of annoying.

A non-magical PI takes a magical case and spends a lot of time doing things unassociated with the case. Missing enough context that I just couldn't enjoy it

Now, when I say “not written very well”, I don’t want you to think that the words aren’t strung together coherently. Oh no. Far from it. The writing is fine. Story structure is more what I’m referring to. The writing itself was actually rather well done. The first-person POV of Ivy Gamble has an easy, rolling gait to it that lends itself toward falling into the story and getting absorbed by the details that are presented. In fact, the ability of the prose to pull me into the story was probably why the structure of the story bothered me so much. I do tend to get more easily annoyed by finding myself in situations such as this.

The world that is painted around Ivy is a fairly sparse one. It’s very “our” world. Other than the fact that magic exists. There’s the typical “no one non-magical knows about magic” bit, and in this way the author sidesteps the need to devise an alternate reality of how the rest of the world works. Like Harry Potter and so many other fantastical stories, this simple answer is given and that’s all there is to it. The school itself though never really felt significantly well-developed either. It’s very normal-person schoolish, other than the fact that occasional magic flaunts itself in places. Most of that magic seems to be things that are put together by the students, instead of taught through any concerted effort by the teachers. So it comes off feeling a little weak. As I’ve already mentioned the well-known series, why not use an analogy: this school of magic comes off feeling a lot like Harry Potter fan-fiction.

The most difficult aspect I had with this book though was how important everything *other* than the murder seemed to play in the story, and how much time was spent developing those pieces of the story only to have them ultimately turn out to be pointless and without impact to the story at large. If, instead, the point of the story was to have Ivy try to fix her busted relationship with her sister, develop a random, short-lived, romantic relationship with a school teacher, hang out with a bartender and lay out the current shape of her life, and then somehow stumble into a condition where everyone confesses the part they played in the “death” of the deceased… then it did a pretty good job. As is though, it just felt like all of the stuff that should have played second fiddle to the main storyline — the “murder” — and then complicated matters for the MC, instead took over the story completely and left the dregs for what should have been the driving force of the whole thing.

Not something I’d read again, or that I’d suggest someone else spend their time with. There’s lot of better stuff out there. Go find it instead.

  • Recommended Age: 18+, mostly for language
  • Language: Strong and conversational
  • Violence: The story revolves around a fairly grisly murder
  • Sex: Several references to teenage sex and some heavy lead-up that goes nowhere


  • Jason Vendes says:

    Thank you so much for having the age rating and information about sexual content on these books – it tells me what I can read and show my children as they enjoy these genres as well!

    Keep doing what you’re doing!

  • Lu says:

    I felt the same about this book. Contrary to you, though, I used to finish every single book I started but nowadays, if it doesn’t engage me in the first few chapters, I simply DNF it.

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