Tuesday, May 5, 2015

Review: Magonia

Title: Magonia
Author: Maria Dahvana Headley
Publisher: HarperCollins / EpicReads

"Aza Ray Boyle is drowning in thin air. Since she was a baby, Aza has suffered from a mysterious disease that makes it ever harder for her to breath, 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 horribly 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 dying thing she was. In Magonia, she can breathe for the first time. Better, she has immense power - but as she navigates her new life, she discovers that war between Magonia and Earth is coming. In Aza's hands lies the fate of the whole of humanity - including the boy who loves her. Where do her loyalties lie?"

Oh, Magonia. I had the highest of hopes that you would be incredible, an epic urban fantasy just as beautiful as that gorgeous cover. I should have known better, because this book is billed as Neil Gaiman's Stardust meets John Green's The Fault in Our Stars. This is problematic for me because 1) I don't particularly enjoy Gaiman, and 2) books are advertised as the second coming of TFIOS left and right these days, and invariably the only real connection is dying kids. Dying kids in a book does not TFIOS make. Alas, I only realized this marketing mash up after I ordered the book, and besides, the premise sounds so. damn. cool.

I'm not mad, I'm just disappointed. 

I adored the first, let's say 100 pages of this book. Aza is angry and hilarious and always on the brink of actively dying. She comes across so strongly in the beginning, and anyone with a sense of humor will appreciate Aza.

"the moment someone decides to wrap you in blankets and you accidentally smile weakly, you're dead...I don't want to make myself into a catastrophic blaket-y invalid...Side note: invalid. Whoever invented that word, and made it the same as not-valid? That person sucked."

The beginning had me so excited, and I got emotionally invested, fast. There's a certain scene in which Shit Goes Down, and I lost it. Full-blown ugly crying.

So image my surprise when the rest of the book completely fell apart. Aza wakes up in Magonia and has to come to terms with the truth about who - and what - she is. There's a plethora of potential here, I mean...avian people! Ships in the sky! But much like Aza, the reader never quite connects with Magonia like you'd expect. I was really confused by much of the Magonian lore, and never at any point understood why Aza should embrace it. Plus, I honestly could not get over the fact that their chests have a flap that opens up, allowing a bird to NEST IN A LUNG. Seriously?! Every time it happened in the book, I physically cringed. Throughout the book, I kept expecting to reconnect and enjoy it as much as I had the very beginning - no such luck. Headley attempts some type of pseudo-lyrical writing style, but it falls flat and you're left with pages that look

for no reason. Can you tell I'm frustrated? Yeah.

Besides the first 100 pages, the other aspect of this novel that I enjoyed was Jason, Aza's genius best friend who makes chocolate eclairs from scratch and who's anxiety causes him to count digits of Pi. Despite some completely unbelievable hacking skills that I couldn't suspend belief enough to accept, Jason is the only character I found myself caring about. We only get a few chapters from his perspective, but those are some of the best chapters in the book.

Overall, I'm still not sure what to make of Magonia. It was certainly one of the most unique books I've read in a while, but there were flaws I couldn't quite get past. I don't want to write it off as a total miss, because I know some people really enjoyed it. If you're a fan of Neil Gaiman or like weird books (and I'm talking bird-in-your-lung weird here), then Magonia just might be the book for you. Final note: regardless, it was refreshing to see a new legend story brought to light, instead of the constant stream of the same fairy tale retellings currently flooding the YA market. So brava for that.

(See? Pro-Con-Con-Pro. Robert and his rules would be proud.)

Goodreads Rating: 3 (very generous) stars / 5

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