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Monday, April 20, 2015

Magonia by Maria Dahvana Headley (Review)

Young Adult, Fantasy, Mythology
Publication.Date  April 28th 2015
Published By:  Harper Collins
AuthorMaria Dahvana Headley

Magonia on Goodreads
My review copy:Received from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.
Where to get:,%201

Neil Gaiman’s Stardust meets John Green’s The Fault in Our Stars in this groundbreaking fantasy about a girl caught between two worlds…two races…and two destinies.

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? 

Maria Dahvana Headley's soaring YA debut is a fiercely intelligent, multilayered fantasy rich with symbolism and steeped in allegory. Her John Green–meets–Neil Gaiman approach to character development and world building will draw readers of all genres, who will come for the high-concept journey through the sky and stay for the authentic, confused, questioning teen voices. Jason and Aza’s fight to find each other somewhere between sky and earth is the perfect anchor for Headley’s gorgeous, wildly vivid descriptions of life in Magonia.


For the first time in my entire life, I have power. More than power. I feel like I belong. Like this is my ship.
Like this is my country.
Like this is my destiny.
Be she alive or be she dead, I'll grind her bones to make my bread, fee, fie, foe, fum, and, no, that doesn't help me, but it's what I mutter when I'm at a loss these days, even though I didn't climb a beanstalk to get up here. Most of my tests have involved infliction of medium amounts of pain. Vital signs, modified. Each of my experiments yields the same result: alive. Alive and presumably sane, yet completely and utterly messed up.
I'm a fucking mess of rattling pi and things I never said.
I spent the last ten years talking. Why I couldn't say any of the right words, I don't know.
I'm dark matter. The universe inside me is full of something, and science can't even shine a light on it. I feel like I'm mostly made of mysteries.

     Magonia is, in many ways, an enchanting and highly imaginative novel, full of breathtakingly original creatures and shiny new concepts. For the most part, it's an intense and tightly woven page-turner, and though not quite perfect in execution of certain aspects of the story and somewhat lacking in the character-development department, it is most definitely a fascinating, beautifully written and refreshingly unique YA fantasy novel

     I do find the blurb very misleading, though. I would like to point out the obvious: not every book with a character suffering from some kind of illness should automatically be compared to The Fault In Our Stars (in a similar way not every paranormal story is automatically Twilight-like and not every dystopian is the new Hunger Games). TFiOS has literally nothing in common with Magonia - not even the girl's sickness, as we later find out. Please, do not pick this up hoping for a life-changing, heart-wrecking contemporary novel full of existentialism and reflections on life and death. It is not that kind of book. Not even a bit. 

Now, moving on to the plot line.

     Aza's sickness has been wearing her down her whole life, slowly suffocating her, making her drown on air. Then, one day, an MRI test showed a feather in here left lung. And, shortly after that, a bird flew into her mouth and down her throat, and made a nest in her lungs. And then her whole life as she knew it exploded and shattered to pieces. Because she's not who she thought she was. She doesn't belong here. She's from a different place - a place filled with flying ships and marvelous bird-people, a place hidden among the clouds and filled with magic. Death and rebirth, loss and gain, heartache and love. And nothing will ever be the same again.

     This book is, essentially, about discovering yourself and fighting for what you believe is right. Aza's far from perfect and I had a very hard time warming up to her. And in the end, I still didn't like her a whole lot. I didn't trust her. I thought she was untrustworthy and disloyal, to say the least (she was quick to switch sides and put her trust in the wrong hands, against her better judgment and warnings from others). I don't want to go into details and I certainly don't want to spend long hours nitpicking at everything she said or did, so let's just say that her character was pretty inconsistent and not convincing enough, at least to me. I liked Jason much better, though he too had his moments of "what the hell just happened?" - I still can't figure out how in the world a high school teenager managed to show up at the seed repository, that was some serious teen James Bond stuff (as in, very far fetched stuff).

     In some aspects, Magonia reminded me of The Daughter of Smoke and Bone, but only a little. The conflict here wasn't as harrowing and tragic, and the book wasn't nearly as emotionally impactful as Laini Taylor's fabulous story. It's the originality and stunning visuals that made me think of TDoSaB, for they too were spectacular and unforgettable. If only the plot line was more polished and the characters better fleshed out. This is a fantasy book that, in order to be fully enjoyed, requires some suspension of disbelief and some taking things at face value. But even then, some plot developments just don't make much sense, or maybe they're not explained convincingly enough. 

     So in the end, while I loved some aspects of the story, there were others that I did not care for as much, or at all. I liked the premise and the evocative descriptions, the flying ships and bird-hybrid creatures, the magical connection between the Magonians and their birds, the song, the mystery and the charm of it all. I did not, however, care for the weakly-grounded conflict, the ambiguity of many developments, and the almost non-existent historical and cultural background of this whole new race of creatures roaming the skies above our heads. I wanted more. I would have loved it, if the world and the characters were more thoroughly developed and the plot put together with more care for details. Because you know what they say, the devil is in the details.

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