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Book Review

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Author: Maria Dahvana Headley
Publisher: Harper
RRP: £7.99
ISBN: 978 0 06239 167 4
Publication Date: 04 June 2015

Aza has suffered from breathing difficulties since she was a baby. For most of her life doctors have told her parents that she would not make it another year and yet Aza has made it to her late teens, although the spectre of death is never far away. Not that she has been alone, as her best friend Jason has been there for support, even when she hallucinated due to hypoxia. He listens sympathetically when she tells him that she has seen an actual sailing ship in the sky, even though her parents think that she is having another spell of illness. He looks into the possibility that it could be real, uncovering lost and half remembered tales of the mythical land of Magonia...

Magonia (2015. 307 pages) is a fantasy novel by Maria Dahvana Headley, the American author better known for her novel Queen of Kings (2011).

Magonia is a strange beast of a fantasy novel, it starts not dissimilarly to The Fault in our Stars, even having Aza die, well sort of. The greater part of the book, when she wakes up in Magonia, no longer suffering from any breathing problems, is a little harder to swallow, mostly as we have to accept that although a great civilisation exists beyond the clouds. The clouds, for the most part, are created by the Magonians as a way of hiding their ships, which is why mankind has remained largely ignorant of their existence. How this happens is never really resolved in the book. On the one hand we are given the idea that the ships and people are invisible to humans, which is great, but then why do they need clouds as a form of camouflage? Nor did it make sense that they seemed to be immune to being run into by passenger or commercial jets.

The book was so well written that I was willing to forgive its logical inconsistencies, also if I can accept Hobbits, who am I to quibble at flying ships? What Aza finds when she wakes from her death is a whole civilisation that is both reliant on the human race, they basically fly around causing various meteorological events as a smoke screen for their theft of livestock and crops and in many way at odds with them, over the growing pollution. That tornado which picked your vanished cow off the earth is the Magonians stealing your stuff. This symbiotic relationship, presuming that Magonia also provides needed rain, is in dire peril of breaking down as the humans ruination of their planet also means the end of Magonia.

Aza is initially confused then thrilled to discover that she is not a sick human, but a potentially powerful Magonian, the reason for her inability to breath properly was the thickness of the atmosphere at ground level, Magonians can drown if they spend too long on the Earth. Her initial elation is turned to a state of confusion when she discovers that Magonia is a civilisation divided against itself and one of the proposed solutions is the eradication of the human race.

Headley writes the book as something between a lyrical stream of consciousness and an introspective conversation the main two characters have with themselves. For the most part the story is told either from Aza or Jason’s point of view as she attempts to discover who are the good guys and Jason attempts to find Aza, even though he witnessed her death.

One of the interesting things about the book is that it can be read in many ways. We have the ecological message that our action on the planet have wide reaching consequences for other species. You also have the better part of the book which turns into a fantasy, pirate actioner, as well as a bit of a love triangle. Thankfully, this last element is not allowed to overpower the rest of the book.

Presumably, as the book only came to a semi-resolution, this is the first in a series of books, and whilst I had some issues with the logical consistency of the book, I could not fault how beautifully written it was.


Charles Packer

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