& Review: Magonia by Maria Dahvana Headley

Magonia by Maria Dahvana Headley. Young Adult Fiction. Publisher: HarperCollins

Magonia by Maria Dahvana Headley. Young Adult Fiction. Publisher: HarperCollins

The Book Itself: It’s a beautiful cover. In person, it has a pearlescent shine, and more vivid colors. The city below, and the feather above are important symbols to the story. Very fitting.

My Review: 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?

What a weird book. I’m not sure what I was expecting from that synopsis, but as the story unfolded, it kept bringing out new stuff that I wasn’t expecting.

But here’s my beef: a book has to earn it’s Weirdness. And I kept struggling with whether this one earned it’s particular brand of odd.

Aza (whose real name, we’ll not even mention. And the reasoning behind her renaming? Makes less sense) is sick. She has a lung disease named after her, and is dying from it. Under spoiler-rich circumstances, she finds herself raised up to the sky, to a ship only she can see.

And then the real Weird starts to happen.

She’s actually Magonian. So she (inexplicably) has blue skin, hair that moves on its own, pointy teeth, and red eyes. Most of the other people on board look like birds. How blue skin and red eyes have to do with birds, who knows. In the Magonian race, tiny birds live in lung cavities, opened by small doors in the chest. The tiny birds sing with their humans, who can then do magic. The ships are powered by gigantic bats. Squallwhales hide the ships from humans below by creating huge storms. Stormsharks are bad guys. Pirates are a race of some kind called the Breath. Oh, and some of them keep human skins in the closets of their ships so they can look more human.

Weirded out yet?

I just checked, and this book is pretty well beloved, at least on Goodreads. Lots of GIF-heavy reviews and professions of love. I just wasn’t sold. At all. I didn’t find it page-turning, I didn’t find any character compelling, and I felt that it tried to cram too much world-building/crazy magic stuff to make work.

And then there’s the voice. The book battles between a sarcastic, bristly teenager voice, and a lilting description kind of trying to be poetry. For example: “OMG, it’s striking in my backyard,” (page 59), versus “I sing the hummingbirds loose from the official ship’s sail. They fly, darts of dark, fast, fast, into the sky,’ (on page 256). Headley also tries to do some weird shape-poem stuff. She strikethroughs words, I suppose for emphasis, although I found it distracting. It’s just a weird voice to write in, and not consistent.

And there are terms that are never explained! You can’t just drop a term like “ethologidion” – which is clunky and clumsy all on its own – and never truly explain it. Saying it simply means “partner” is infuriating. It clearly means something deeper than that, but the reader is never clued in. The name of the ship – Amina Pennarum – isn’t explained. Then there are dozens of weird, truncated words that trip up rather than help the reader understand the weird world we find ourselves in: Rostra, Rostrae, canwr, heartbird, even Breath! It’s the first in a series, but some explanation is needed. And we get virtually none.

It’s a clumsy start. I found it inconsistent, confusing, and needlessly complex. It didn’t earn the Weird.

My Grade: C-

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