[REVIEW] Magonia – Maria Dahvana Headley

Characters – 3/5
Plot – 4/5
Style – 4/5
World building – 3/5
Overall – 3/5

“I’m dark matter. The universe inside of me is full of something, and science can’t even shine a light on it. I feel like I’m mostly made of mysteries.”

Aza Ray has been drowning in thin air since she was one year old, kept alive on experimental drugs and countless trips to the hospital. Her condition is so rare that it’s been named after her – she’s the only one to ever be diagnosed. When she begins to hallucinate giant ships in the sky and hundreds of birds following her a few days before her 16th birthday everyone puts it down to her medication, and then she disappears.

MAGONIA is an exciting story that bridges the gap between young adult contemporary and fantasy. Whisked up into the sky, Aza discovers a fascinating new world of flying ships, pirates and magic. She can breathe, she can sing, but she can never return home to Earth. The story alternates between Aza’s new life in Magonia and her best friend, Jason, desperately trying to find a way back to her.

I have to give credit here for an exceptionally original and exciting plot. Magonia is a brilliantly unique world of mythology, politics and magic, somehow feeling possible and fairytale all at the same time. Based on 8th century folklore, Aza’s new world brings to life the original UFO story, anchors falling from the sky, sailors drowning in the air and crops mysteriously disappearing. The plot of MAGONIA was something entirely fresh and ever-changing, fast paced with an explosive conclusion.

Whilst we don’t get to experience much of the physical world of Magonia, limited mostly to the ship Aza joins, the culture she experiences whilst aboard is rich and well thought-out. There are norms unique to the pirates of the ship and certain rites and rituals that must be respected. Aza must learn to earn her position rather than strut straight to the top – she might be a bit of a special snowflake but she’s got to work first.

I got on well with Maria’s writing style and thought her occasional poetic touches were perfect – words falling down the page in shapes and spirals, using empty brackets to show the words that best remain unspoken. The relationship between Aza and Jason was well crafted and felt quite realistic, but the inclusion of a love triangle irritated me.

I feel like a lot of YA novels feel the need to add some kind of love complication as an attempt at a side-plot, when in reality it just ruins the story more often than not. Well done romance is certainly a welcome addition to a story – Aza and Jason were definitely headed in the right direction – but throwing in a second love interest often just doesn’t fit with the personality and direction of the protagonist. Aza is loyal, thick-skinned, sarcastic and biting, and Jason has tried for 10 years to make her go weak at the knees. I just don’t see this Romeo and Juliet kind of relationship with another guy even crossing her mind. I completely appreciate the parallels Maria was trying to draw here with Aza’s loyalties now split between two completely different worlds, but her jellylegs for someone she just met seemed disingenuous to her true character.

Whilst overall I really enjoyed MAGONIA, there was a little something lacking that I just couldn’t quite put my finger on. It niggled at me the whole way through and I wasn’t sure whether it was in the storytelling, the characters or something else entirely. This little something bothered me and I wish I could have let it go to fully immerse myself in the story.

Regardless, I’m definitely interested to see how Aza’s story pans out in the planned sequel as I’m expecting some serious repercussions and drama based on the final chapters of MAGONIA. A completely original story with an exciting plot, I’m absolutely looking forward to reading more from Maria Dahvana Headley.


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