“I call it a dream, but it feels realer than my life.” // Review of “Magonia” by Maria Dahvana Headley

Title: Magonia
Author:  Maria Dahvana Headley
Audio book narrator: Thérèse Plummer, Michael Crouch
Genre:
  YA/sci-fi/fantasy
Dates read: 06/02/18 – 14/02/18
Rating: ★★★

Review:

This was one of those books where I got to the end and thought, “Well, that was… fine.” I don’t think I’ve read another YA book like it, but at the same time, I’m not entirely sure it struck the right balance between sci-fi and fantasy that it was trying for. On top of that, there were some aspects to the characters and plot that I just didn’t like, which meant that the originality got weighed down for me.

I found the world-building in Magonia fascinating, even though I didn’t necessarily like all of it. The idea of ships and cities in the sky? Yes, please! And half-bird people indentured to the Magonians and secretly plotting revolution? Yes, please! Especially if those people are described in such beautiful, vivid colours. Birds that live in the lung or heart of the person they’re bonded to and sing from within…? Um. Not quite sold on that part.

Honestly, I think this would make a very good movie. So much of the description is visual or auditory. Even a graphic novel would probably work if done with the rights colours and visuals.

As you can see, most of the world-building here is fantasy based. But then there was also the sci-fi aspect, particularly from the POV of Jason, Aza’s love interest. He is convinced she is not dead, and is tracking weather patterns and designing apps to track where the Magonians appear to be travelling. The climax also has more of a sci-fi bent than fantasy. It all felt like a bit of a weird clash.

Speaking of Jason, neither he nor Aza has any other friends, and the fact a co-dependent friendship developed into a romance was a bit troubling for me. I really don’t know how Jason got away with so much without getting into trouble in a number of different countries.

One thing that annoys me in books is when the main character is kept in the dark for no good reason. The side  characters are constantly dancing around main character, Aza, for no other reason that I could see than to pad out the plot a bit further. To be honest, not a lot happens; it’s interested at the start, then becomes a long training montage for a while, then the climax happens.

This book also reminded me why sometimes audio books aren’t the best way of experiencing a book. For example, Jason displays OCD tendencies, one of which is to start reciting Pi when he is anxious. And he knows Pi to a hell of a lot of decimal places. If I had been reading the print book, I could have just skimmed over the dozens and dozens of numbers. As it was, I was just listening to a string of numbers for literally a few minutes in one case. This is neither the fault of the book nor the audio version, but an observation on how the experience can be affected.

Overall, this book gets marks for originality and for adapting a mythology that has not really been explored in YA fiction before (or any fiction, I think). It’s just a shame that I didn’t quite warm to the characters and took issue with a few parts of the plot.


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