Skip to main content

Occasional Media Consumption: Magic for Liars, by Sarah Gailey

My niblings and I were talking, during our week-long vacation/family reunion together, about the experience of unreliable narrators. This was during our discussion of another book, and of course we talked about Catcher in the Rye, and how when I first read it as a tween I was so taken in by the experience, and how much I loved it, and how as I've grown older I've come to love it less and less. And a big part of that was realizing that every book that has a narrator, by definition, has an unreliable narrator, because books told from a point of view by necessity take on the position of the person telling us the story (which is different from the author telling us the story, obviously, but that's what parenthetical disclaimers are for, right?). So the experience of various narrators suddenly turning out to be unreliable is a trope that maybe I've outgrown in my old age. If you're going to be honest with anyone, you can be honest with me, dear narrator.

So how refreshing to have Sarah Gailey's Ivy tell us up front: she's not trustworthy, but for this length of time, anyway, she's going to try and be truthful with us, if maybe not so much with herself. Because that's where, unreliable narrator tropes aside, lying gets into trouble: what happens when you start lying to yourself? And how a single lie, a single choice, can snowball rapidly out of control into something bigger than anything, bigger than life, and so uncontrollable that the only recourse is to blow yourself and your life up and hope you can escape in the confusion and wreckage.

The thing is, Ivy isn't incompetent; she isn't bad at what she does (she's actually pretty good at it, in fact). But she's not good at this one particular thing, and that's her soft place, the place where the tooth was, the place that hurts to poke and yet you can't stop poking at it. And this book is full of that impulse. The impulse to poke, to find that pain and feel it, in the hopes that maybe, if you poke it enough, it won't hurt any longer, or at least you'll get used to it.

In Magic for Liars, Gailey gives us the most difficult of all writer's challenges: an AND. Because this book is not just a fantasy book about a person who knows magic is real in a world that denies the existence of magic; it's a fantasy AND a murder mystery. So everything has to follow both sets of rules, in order to avoid cheating the reader. And Gailey does it expertly and brilliantly while ALSO giving us a narrator who constantly and consistently bullshits through the world inhabited and defined. Ivy is trying to find the truth in a world where reality itself lies, and not just truth; she's trying to find justice, which itself may be the biggest lie.

It's a journey and a search that's worth a little self-deception.


Popular posts from this blog

Occasional Media Consumption: Gideon the Ninth, by Tamsyn Muir

There is -- I won't say no trick, but perhaps -- very little trick to introducing the reader to a character and then making us like that character. An author can make it a bit harder for themselves by making the character somewhat disagreeable, at least at the start, but eventually we get to the bits where the character does something good and then we like them. An author can do this in reverse, too: show the reader a character, and them make us not like that character. Arguably, it's slightly easier, because we just see the character being an asshole, and then we don't like them. But there is a positive magic in the trick of taking a character, and making us not like them, and then changing our minds. It's a hell of a trick, too. We're introduced to a character, and then the do something disagreeable or assholish, and then we don't like the character. And then, little by little, the author peels back the layers, and suddenly we understand. The character was li…

Occasional Media Consumption: Middlegame, by Seanan McGuire

The most amazing thing to me, in a book filled with amazing things, is that McGuire never addresses the title choice of the book, and yet it was perfectly, brilliantly obvious from about a third of the way in. No, I won't spoil it; I'm not an asshole. But it is amazing, and exactly appropriate for the story being told. There are a LOT of things being juggled in this book. Pairs of characters. Solo characters. Histories. Magic. The modern world. Alchemy. The hidden corners everywhere in the world, and some of the people who live there. And the places that exist in the social unconscious, that are there but not there any longer.

It's hard to talk about this book without spoiling it, because many of the choices the author makes are so outside the norm of the genre that to give them away is to take away from the ingeniousness of the move itself. But in the same way, I've also read several books that leverage exactly the same tropes and choices in similar ways, to great and…

"My pain was selfish. Because it was never only mine."

Y'all, I am so, so tired.

I mean that in a couple of ways, of course. It's been hot in the Pacific Northwest over the last week or so, and it's continuing to be hot for the next couple of weeks. Not that this is particularly surprising, because the world is literally on fire (THE ARCTIC IS BURNING, Y'ALL, AND THAT'S NOT A METAPHOR), but one of the nicer things about the PNW before the current decade was that mostly, it was temperate; summers were a highs-in-the-mid-80s kind of summer. This new highs-in-the-mid-90s is making it hard for me to get to, and stay, asleep overnight. And because harsh summers are a new thing here, almost none of the houses (including ours) have a central A/C unit, so we're trying to make do with window units. Which generate white noise, which is nice, but are also loud, which is not so nice. So I'm tired.

But this last week especially has been more than the physical tired. I'm emotionally tired. Drained, existentially tired. T…