Magonia Maria Dahvana Headley

by Maria Dehvana Headley 

published on April 28th, 2015 by HarperCollins
young adult | fantasy | adventure

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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?

Book Review

I was shocked when I saw that Neil Gaiman had blurbed this random book with a weird name.  Obviously, I had to read it.  Neil Gaiman is one of my favorite authors for good reason: he captures the dark, yet whimsical side of fantasy few others touch.  Well, Magonia deserves all its praise.  It’s a fantastical pirate opera with quirky-cool characters, an original mythology, and innovative writing.

Yes, I said freaking pirate opera.  But it starts out sneakily, with Aza and Jason.  They’re adorable super-nerds who compete to see who can acquire the most obscure knowledge (whether that be Tibetan throat singing or the first 50,000 digits of pi).  They’re also adorably sort of kind of into each other, and sort of kind of clueless.  It’s the perfect recipe for a young adult contemporary romance geekier than John Green’s wildest dreams.

But Aza is no normal girl.  She’s drowning in the air.  Every breath is a struggle and a gift.  Despite my dubiousness towards the recent rash (har har, see what I did there?) of allergy/medical anomaly books, I went in with an open mind.  I was rewarded with the wonders of Magonia, a world-in-the-air.  Headley vividly unfolds a world of blue-skinned mages who sing the rain, servile bird-humans, sky ships, Squallwhales, and magical birds that live in the hearts of their masters.

This world is enchantingly portrayed in Headley’s witty, whimsical poetry.  She plays around with language in a way that showcases her comfort with the medium.  There are whole multitudes of feeling explored in punctuation [{(((   )))}], blank spaces, and paragraphs shaped like homes and falling rain.  There are descriptions that could have been painted on.  The whole thing is suffused with a dry cheekiness that feels like Headley is letting you in on some private joke.

But there’s a dark side to the beauty.  Aza soon realizes that something is amiss.  The captain wants something from her.  The sailors won’t let her leave.  And a ghost-bird cries for freedom, while all ears but Aza’s are deaf.  On the surface world, only Jason believes that Aza is not truly lost, but his persistence may be putting him in great danger.

This is the kind of book that will leave you breathless.  Headley paces it perfectly, making you wait and then cracking the whip.  She draws you in with the wonders of Magonia’s magic, of Aza’s mystical powers, leaving you languid and satisfied.  Then, she stokes the tension with an accumulation of darker and darker mysteries that explode into a surprising climax.

I did have my complaints.  I wish we’d gotten more of a taste of Magonia’s rulers, of the relationship of Magonia and Earth, of the mysterious skinwalkers.  These things seemed too circumscribed for such important pieces of the puzzle.  But in the end, my questions just pointed to one fact: I want more of this world!  

Skulls 5



About C.J.

I’m a font of useless knowledge and an endless source of sarcasm. Oh, and I guess I read, too.

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48 thoughts on “Review: Magonia by Maria Dahvana Headley

  1. Great review! Arghhhhhh I wish I shared the same opinion of this one — everyone I’ve spoken to has loved it. And I totally feel like the odd one out ahah. I mean, I loved the writing, the world — but I wish it had been explored more. I felt like by the end of the novel I didn’t have a very good grasp on it. Buuuuut I liked Aza’s character and am looking forward to seeing where the story will go.


    1. I totally understand your frustrations. I was annoyed that we didn’t get more of the capital and the mythos. It felt thin. I just liked the rest enough to make up for it.


  2. Fabulous review, CJ! I totally agree with everything you said. :) Aza and Jason are just so adorably awkward together. And this world–so magical. I definitely need more of it!


  3. OMG OMG OMG. None of the other reviews I’ve read have really convinced me, but you totally won me over here. Magic? Super nerds? Lush writing? PIRATE OPERA? Excuse me, I am over here skipping lunch to save up money for this one.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. YAY! I’ve corrupted someone! :D Normally I’m nervous of making guarantees but if you like those things, I really think you’ll love it. Just eat too so you’re alive to read it. :P


  4. I love the whole idea of her being stuck on a ship. It gives it a really mystical quality and I’m ready to dive in. :) I’ve read COUNTLESS gushing reviews about this book and can’t wait to try it out. Putting it on my TBR. :)


  5. Thank you for writing this, I’ll think I’ll give it another chance! I was very excited for this book but I could barely get through the first chapter because the character’s voice was so…unrelatable and cold and kinda smart*ss, which just rubbed me the wrong way. But maybe I’ll like it if I can get through to the fantasy elements! :D

    Liked by 1 person

  6. I didn’t bother to read the blurb for this book because honestly I wasn’t intrigued by a lot of books lately. But reading your review, it reminds me a lot of Peter Pan, don’t you think? I think I’m beginning to be curious about this really enchanting sounding book. Beautiful review CJ! :D


  7. You had me at original mythology! The last time i heard of such a thing was so long ago I can’t even remember. Also, clueless puppy love i s so cute, I nEED TO READ THAT. Is this a standalone or a series though? Maybe we could get more of the world… :)


    1. “Mythology” may be not quite the right term, but it sort of is. Original lore? You’ll find out. (Oh god, clueless love…yes! Gets me every time.) I actually have no idea. YAY GOODREADS SAYS SERIES. At least a sequel.


  8. HEY CJ.

    I’m super excited for reading this. It’s been on my shelf forever, and I just don’t know when I’ll get to read it. MAYBE NOW? I should just read it now haha. But I was planning to read it for a readathon, but I don’t think that will happen for that week!

    I’ve heard all about the “magical realism” for this one. And it sounds freaking fantastic. Glad that you loved it so much! Awesome review!


    1. You should obviously just read it now. Drop everything you’re doing. Nothing can be as important! :P

      Hm, I didn’t get that since it’s outright fantasy, but I could sort of see that flavor, maybe. Thank you!


  9. Love the way you describe this! I just got the book last week, but i got thirty pages in and had to put it down. Just wasn’t feeling it at all. But from what you say, it gets better! I love pirates! I’ll have to give this another chance :)


  10. I’ve always been intrigued by the cover but then I heard some not-so-good things about it and decided I would have to skip this one. But your review just changed my mind all over again. Great review, I’ll definitely have to pick up the book now. :)


  11. This is very interesting considering I only gave this book 3 stars and it disappointed me. I agree with you that her writing was beautiful. I felt like the world should and could have been more thoroughly developed and it would have brought up my rating. I also felt all over the place with the plot when reading this book. Its great to see someone love this book though! xoxo


    1. Eh, not every book will resonate with everyone. I actually agree with you about the world–it was given short shrift–but I loved everything else enough that it didn’t drag my rating down.

      Liked by 1 person

  12. The summary alone has me reeling to read this book. Thanks not only for the review but for even pointing it out to me—I hadn’t heard of this book before! Hopefully I’ll enjoy it just as much as you did. :)


  13. I absolutely ADORED this book as well, one of the most whimsical and breathtakingly lovely books I’ve read in a long time. Completely agree about wanting more, I’m still holding out hope that it’ll be somehow morphed into a series, introducing new characters and the relationship between sky and earth. I’m so glad you enjoyed this C.J and absolutely lovely review! <3


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