Review: Magic for Liars – Ivy Gamble is Not Magic and She Wants Everyone to Know


Title: Magic for Liars
Author: Sarah Gailey
Publisher: Tor Books
Release Date: June 4th, 2019
Genre(s): Fantasy, Mystery
Subjects and Themes: Siblings, Mental Health, LGBTQIAP+ (Secondary)
Page Count: 336 (hardback)

Rating: 5.0/10

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Ivy Gamble was born without magic and never wanted it.

Ivy Gamble is perfectly happy with her life – or at least, she’s perfectly fine.

She doesn’t in any way wish she was like Tabitha, her estranged, gifted twin sister.

Ivy Gamble is a liar.

When a gruesome murder is discovered at The Osthorne Academy of Young Mages, where her estranged twin sister teaches Theoretical Magic, reluctant detective Ivy Gamble is pulled into the world of untold power and dangerous secrets. She will have to find a murderer and reclaim her sister―without losing herself.



I think this book would save people a lot of disappointment if it came with a disclaimer. Something like “NOTE: The magical boarding school featured in this story is actually pretty ordinary and the characters spend more time talking about the theories of magic than actually doing magic.” Though personally, I wasn’t too bummed out by the lack of magic. In the first half I was still interested in the mystery and the MC, so I didn’t mind that there weren’t moving staircases and people lighting things on fire. And in the second half I was too caught up in other–bigger–issues to really care.

Yeah. Safe to say this was a disappointment for me.

It starts out very strong (I mean, a book that opens up with a scene straight out of Hannibal has my full attention) and it ends on a…strange and depressing note that I still don’t know how I feel about (though I have a feeling I’ll eventually land at “I didn’t like it”). But it’s mostly the middle bits that I had a problem with. And a lot of those problems link back to the protagonist.

Ivy Gamble was a trying narrator for me. Think Jessica Jones with all her psychological baggage minus the snark. And I was sympathetic in the beginning. I can imagine how bitterly disappointing it would be to watch your sibling discover their magical abilities and get accepted to an elite magic academy while you’re sitting on the sidelines reconciling with the fact that you’re not magical and this incredible new world is off-limits to you. I understand how that can shape the rest of your life.

But I don’t need to be reminded of it every other page.

Ivy goes out of her way to let the readers know that, hey, she’s not magic. Did you know she’s not magic? Bet you forgot she’s not magic since the last time she told you she wasn’t magic.

*taps on mic* An important announcement: IVY GAMBLE IS NOT MAGIC.

If you haven’t noticed, I love–for the lack of a better adjective–tortured characters in stories. Characters carrying scars that they can’t bear to look at but can’t help but prod. But when all that mental turmoil overpowers the rest of the narrative–plot, side characters, setting–the result feels less like a story and more like a one-sided therapy session. And that was more or less my experience with Magic for Liars. The mystery would start to get interesting but then Ivy would start comparing Nonmagic Ivy (her current self) to magic Ivy (a theoretical version of herself) and musing about how the latter would do so much better in this and such situation, and that would pull me right out of the story.

And this is more of a general complaint that I’m throwing out into the fictional ether, but I’m a little tired of private eye stories where the protagonist is an emotional mess and drinking constantly. I understand that that’s part of the noir aesthetic–cigarettes and gin and staring out the window in contemplation of the fatality of life– and, yes, there’s often a romantic allure to it, but for once I would like to see a well-adjusted PI who chooses to abstain from heavy drinking because it interferes with their work. A happy (or happier) noir, you know?

This book is not a happy noir, though, so if you’re looking for a twisty mystery with magical school shenanigans, you’re better off looking elsewhere. If you want a simple narrator-driven mystery with a lot of diversity and a LOT of heavy introspection, then well, it doesn’t hurt to try!



Review copy provided by the publisher in exchange for an honest review

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Tammy June 5, 2019 - 5:52 am

LOL! I love this review, even though I’m sad you didn’t enjoy it. Its hopefully next up on the pile for me, so well see what I make of non magical Ivy🤣🤣

Kathy @ Pages Below the Vaulted Sky June 15, 2019 - 7:05 pm

Oh gosh, so sorry for the late reply, Tammy! Life has been kicking my butt for the past week. I’m sure you got to it by now (I’ll be back to blog hopping soon, hopefully!), and I can’t wait to see your thoughts on it. 😀

Never Not Reading June 5, 2019 - 6:50 am

This is the second disappointed review I’ve seen, and since I recently added another similar book, I think I’ll give this one a pass.

Kathy @ Pages Below the Vaulted Sky June 11, 2019 - 9:19 pm

Mhm, the reviews have definitely been polarizing. I totally understand why people love Ivy and her messiness, but I just couldn’t connect with her.

celinelingg June 5, 2019 - 6:55 am

So sorry you didn’t enjoy the book! Well, at least the cover is unique though LOL

Kathy @ Pages Below the Vaulted Sky June 11, 2019 - 9:15 pm

Thank you! I loved the *idea* of it, but the actual story just didn’t match up with my expectations. The cover’s definitely eye catching, though!

Paul's Picks June 5, 2019 - 7:15 am

I hear you! I’m a little done with “school” books for awhile… there’s just so many and just being free from the kids for summer myself, I don’t think I’ll pick this one up.

Kathy @ Pages Below the Vaulted Sky June 11, 2019 - 9:06 pm

Haha I love your reasoning. Between this and Nevernight, I think I’m a little burnt out on magical school stories too. Happy summer break, Paul! 😀

Paul's Picks June 12, 2019 - 7:17 am

Thank you so much!!

debjani6ghosh June 5, 2019 - 7:39 am

Wonderfully in-depth, “snarky” review. 😛 This is indeed disappointing that the mystery was overwhelmed by the MC’s mundane and repetitive monologue.

Kathy @ Pages Below the Vaulted Sky June 8, 2019 - 5:31 pm

Ha! Thank you! I know a lot of readers could relate to the MC and her messiness, but I guess I wanted it better woven into the story. Not just plot –> Ivy’s monologue –> plot

Bailey June 5, 2019 - 9:39 am

Haha, this is definitely the best critical review I’ve seen of Magic for Liars. Ivy Gamble is definitely a real mess.

Kathy @ Pages Below the Vaulted Sky June 15, 2019 - 7:03 pm

LOL thank you! And yeah, despite not being able connect with Ivy, I do love that we’re seeing more and more messy characters (esp. female ones) in fantasy. 🙂

bitsnbooks June 5, 2019 - 11:26 am

It doesn’t sound like a book for me but thank you for the review , it made me laugh haha!

Kathy @ Pages Below the Vaulted Sky June 8, 2019 - 5:39 pm

Hahaha glad you enjoyed it! I still don’t really like writing negative/disappointing reviews, so I add snark to offset the “oh I feel bad criticizing this book” feeling 😅

David June 5, 2019 - 11:51 am

I’ve been seeing disappointing reviews of this one spring up. Sad. I was looking forward to it.

Kathy @ Pages Below the Vaulted Sky June 6, 2019 - 4:39 pm

The reviews have been divisive, for sure. And same! I loved the idea of a murder mystery in a magical boarding school, but this just wasn’t what I expected.

sjhigbee June 5, 2019 - 3:37 pm

Thank you for a really helpful, enjoyable review. I’ll be honest – I’m not surprised. While I loved the idea of the wild west hippos – I kept thinking that Gailey could have written a more engrossing book featuring them, so I had already decided that I wouldn’t be reading any more of her work. Sorry you found this one a disappintment, though:(.

Kathy @ Pages Below the Vaulted Sky June 6, 2019 - 7:09 pm

Oh gosh, I LOVED the idea of western hippos, but I just couldn’t get past book 1. I really like the premises Gailey comes up with, but I don’t think her writing is for me, either.

sjhigbee June 7, 2019 - 2:22 am

I know what you mean…

Lisa June 5, 2019 - 5:33 pm

Great review — I actually loved this book, but I appreciated reading your reasons for reaction. And yup, I did kind of get the point that Ivy isn’t magic!

Kathy @ Pages Below the Vaulted Sky June 6, 2019 - 4:30 pm

It’s interesting to see how divided the reviews have been! Many seem to love it (and I totally understand why) and others not so much. But, hey, it’d be boring if we all had the same opinion. 😀

evelynreads1 June 5, 2019 - 10:45 pm

Sad that tis was a disappointment, it sounds really good but i keep seeing not so great reviews for it.. I might just check it out from the library once it’s there!


Kathy @ Pages Below the Vaulted Sky June 6, 2019 - 4:03 pm

I LOVED the premise, too. It just ended up being such a different book from what I thought it’d be. I think picking it from the library is a good idea!

Thank You, Next Book Tag – Siobhan's Novelties June 6, 2019 - 9:55 pm

[…] | Gerry | Nichole | Holly | Kathy | Anna  | Nina | Christina | Tamika | Sara | Paige | […]

Captain's Quarters June 9, 2019 - 5:11 pm

Hardy har har! Fantastic review matey. Ye managed to sum up me thoughts on this one quite well. It walked the plank! Me review be below. No pressure.
x The Captain

Kathy @ Pages Below the Vaulted Sky June 11, 2019 - 6:08 pm

Aw, thank you Captain!! And I’m glad you linked your review! I’ve been kind of MIA from blogging for the past week, so I’ve been missing out on a lot of blog posts. I’ll definitely check it out. 😀

@lynnsbooks June 10, 2019 - 4:23 am

So, to be clear, Ivy doesn’t do magic?? lol
Great review – I did look at this one but decided to behave, although I still haven’t read this author so I was curious – I hate to admit it, it’s so fickle sounding – but, the cover didn’t grab me. I know.
Lynn 😀

Sophie @ Me and Ink June 10, 2019 - 10:01 am

It’s a shame you didn’t enjoy this book and I do hate when the book reminds you of something every other page— it loses it’s original impact that way and becomes a bit boring. So I can understand why that would be annoying. I don’t think this book is for me. Great review though. 🙂

Kathy @ Pages Below the Vaulted Sky June 15, 2019 - 5:21 pm

Thank you, Sophie! I know a lot of people are loving it, and I totally understand why, but it just wasn’t for me!

waytoofantasy June 11, 2019 - 6:42 am

Hmmm, interesting. Glad I read your review of this one, I’ll be sure to keep this in mind if/when Inget to this one. 🙂

Kathy @ Pages Below the Vaulted Sky June 15, 2019 - 6:06 pm

I hope it works out better for you if you do! Honestly, most of the reviews I’ve seen have been 50/50 so far, so there’s a good chance you’ll love it. 😀

Papertea and Bookflowers June 16, 2019 - 7:15 am

Oh god, I can’t stand book who remind me of something every other page! Like .. cut your readers some slack. I’m forgetful but not THAT forgetful!
I’m sorry though you didn’t really enjoy this one. The concept sounds intriguing but I think I’ll stay clear of this now

Kathy @ Pages Below the Vaulted Sky June 25, 2019 - 12:16 am

“I’m forgetful but not THAT forgetful!” Oh gosh, this made me laugh. 😀 And I know right? I totally get that the author was trying to portray the MC as this emotionally messy person with a lot of baggage, but the execution didn’t really do it for me.

Sunshine Blogger Award from AK of Everything is Bad for You | Extra Life June 18, 2019 - 6:06 am

[…] Pages Below the Vaulted Sky […]

Sahi June 22, 2019 - 12:56 pm

Ughhh… this sounded promising, but I completely agree with you that I want a non emotional mess of a person investigating stuff for once… Thanks for the wonderful review!!!

Kathy @ Pages Below the Vaulted Sky June 30, 2019 - 3:34 pm

Aw thanks so much for reading! <3

tasya @ the literary huntress June 23, 2019 - 11:16 am

Thanks for the review, Kathy! I was initially interested in this book because someone mentioned it’s like Petunia and Lily from HP, but in alternate universe. But I agree, the narrator does sound like a trying character, I always hate it when characters keep reminding us of certain things; in most cases, it’s usually describing how gorgeous their love interest is or how quirky they are. In this book, it seems like the character can’t stop talking of how sad she was! I agree, I’m also tired with sad, tortured, alcoholic PI- this is one of the reason I don’t really read mystery.

I hope your next read will be better!

Kathy @ Pages Below the Vaulted Sky June 28, 2019 - 1:42 pm

Thanks, Tasya!! <3 YES, the sisters really do remind of Petunia and Lily! And I was actually kind of disappointed that I didn't see them interact together more. I felt that is was more of a MC-focused story first, and sibling-relationship story second.

I do want to see more amateur detective/PI stories with female leads, especially in YA, but all the ones I've read recently have been so…gritty and grim, and I just want something different in tone for a change.

Sammie @ The Writerly Way June 24, 2019 - 6:43 am

Great review! Shame you didn’t like it, though. As you were describing it, I couldn’t help but think that the MC sounds an awful lot like Petunia Evans from Harry Potter. xD And you know what? I would LOVE a story that’s still noir-esque, but with an MC who, like, I don’t know, does yoga and chews too much gum or something silly instead of drinks, smokes, and feels miserable. 😛

I have one final question, though: Is Ivy Gamble magic?!

Kathy @ Pages Below the Vaulted Sky June 26, 2019 - 12:46 pm

Ahahaha oh gosh, your comment made me chuckle. I really need that today, thank you! <3 And a noir story about a silly yoga-going private eye would be AMAZING and a wonderful change of pace. That's why I'm really looking forward to the new Veronica Mars season. It'll still have Veronica and her positivity and quirky humour, but a little darker and more noir-y in tone. Allegedly, anyway!

Sammie @ The Writerly Way June 26, 2019 - 5:09 pm

Ha, I’m glad! I’ve never watched Veronica Mars. xD I tend not to watch a whole slew of TV. I do tend to love slightly darker tones, though. I mean, I love comedy and humor, but darker humor is my favorite.

Kathy @ Pages Below the Vaulted Sky June 28, 2019 - 6:16 pm

I love dark comedy too! If you have Netflix, The End of the F*cking World is a really really good one! It somehow manages to be sad and wholesome yet funny at the time which I think is a hard balance to nail. 😀

Sammie @ The Writerly Way June 28, 2019 - 6:23 pm

Oh, I think I watched the first episode of that, but didn’t continue it. I’ll have to go back and rewatch it!

Dani @ Perspective of a Writer June 26, 2019 - 1:59 pm

You totally made me laugh out loud! I can see this book is not for me either. It would drive me bonkers ❤️ My writing partner reads tons of mysteries and I join her when she really really loves one. But she really tries hard not to read the liquored up detectives! They are super annoying.

Kathy @ Pages Below the Vaulted Sky June 29, 2019 - 8:31 pm

Haha thanks Dani! XD I love mysteries too but more of the Veronica Mars variety? Quirky and charming and feminist. 😀

Dani @ Perspective of a Writer June 29, 2019 - 9:19 pm

YES! Go quirky! 😉

Susy's Cozy World June 30, 2019 - 2:03 am

Those are exactly my thoughts about this book! I have the review scheduled but now I can just delete it and leave a link to yours instead! 😉

Kathy @ Pages Below the Vaulted Sky June 30, 2019 - 2:01 pm

Oh YAY! All of my other blogger friends have liked it, so I was feeling a bit left out haha. And you delete that review over my dead body! 😛 Can’t wait to read it, Susy!


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