Magonia by Maria Dahvana HeadleyMagonia by Maria Dahvana Headley
Series: Magonia #1
Published by HarperCollins on April 28th 2015
Genres: Fantasy, Young Adult
Pages: 309

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?

2.5 Stars

Before I start my review can we just all take a moment to appreciate this GORGEOUS cover? Yes? Yes.

Throughout this entire story I kept seeing certain images in my mind. Something like this

and this

I can’t have been the only one, right? I mean, cities in the sky, flying ships, air pirates, strange creatures in the clouds… Having said that though, this comparison is a compliment, not a reproach. By no means did I feel like Magonia was a copy of Castle in the Sky. Rather, me comparing a book to a Myazaki movie is pretty much the biggest praise I can give.

So what is Magonia actually about?

It’s the story of Aza Ray, a fifteen-year-old girl that has been suffering from a strange and foreign disease her entire life. She has trouble breathing and basically feels like she’s drowning in air. She is dying and all attempts to cure her have failed. Then one day, Aza sees a ship in the sky and at around the same time the doctors discover a feather in her lungs. She finds out that she isn’t wholly part of the human world but belongs to a different place, a place in the clouds. I’ll let you discover the rest.

Magonia stood out to me because of its originality and imagination. Despite the fact, that the plot arc at its very core is your typical YA fantasy story (girl is weak, finds out she isn’t what she thought but that she is in actuality “special” blablabla), Magonia is still unlike anything I’ve ever read before. And originality, for me, is one of the most important factors in my enjoyment of a book. The ideas in this book were new and fresh, the mythology unheard of. I loved that about the novel.

Having said that though, this novel didn’t blow me away. In fact, it didn’t even come close, which is really sad considering its potential. My problems came with the  execution of the story.

The plot felt very haphazard. A lot of the time I felt confused because I wasn’t sure what was happening. I actually found myself having to reread pages because I realized that I had missed something important and was totally lost. The plotline really needed that extra polish and fleshing out that would have made the story more understandable and less exhausting to read. The conflict felt weakly grounded and there was too much happening at the same time, resulting in lots of  elements that weren’t executed with care.

The world building definitely also contributed to my general confusion. Although I had the feeling that the author had a solid idea for the world with lots of enticing ideas, she didn’t manage to translate that onto the page. As a result, she would just drop an information bomb on us, e.g. in the form of a magical creature, but then wouldn’t explain anything about said creature. I would often find myself wondering what the purpose of a certain story element was, where things had come from, how the world worked. We got almost zero historical, cultural or political background of this world above our human one.

All in all, this book just lacked much needed explanation. It’s great if you can give me something unique and charming, but if there isn’t enough meat to it for me to understand or appreciate, I’m not going to enjoy the book. Having to constantly question everything that is happening, feeling like you missed something and being confused isn’t fun.

I quite enjoyed the characters. Aza was smart and sarcastic with a very peculiar sense of humor and I liked her well enough. I did however, have an issue with the inconstancy of her character. She constantly switched sides and trusted the wrong people for no apparent reason. She seemed to understand things and make accurate judgments but then didn’t act on them. I had trouble understanding her motivation for some of her actions, which caused me to feel detached from her.

Jason was more consistent but I didn’t really connect with him either. I liked him as a character, he was a nice guy, but I couldn’t love him. Also, how on earth he managed certain things View Spoiler » will remain a mystery to me.

The romance aspect in this novel was solid. There was no insta-love or ungrounded angst. I actually understood why the two characters were in love with each other, which I appreciate. However, it also wasn’t the kind of romance that made me feel giddy or made me want to  skip up and down.

The writing is definitely a hit or miss. The narrative style is quite different from what I usually read, very conversational and sarcastic. Personally, I enjoyed it after I got into it but it wasn’t my favorite. Here a quote that I think captures the writing style quite well:

Did he just say stormsharks? My inner nerd is elated. Can anything I will ever hear from now until the end of time sound cooler than stormsharks?

Overall, an enjoyable read but I wouldn’t recommend it to everyone. It really depends on how you feel about the writing style and how important worldbuilding is to you. As for me, the originality of the story couldn’t overcome all the loose elements, convenient plot twists, and mediocre characters.