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?
Three words to describe Magonia: unique, magical, imaginative. Well, let’s add more words to that: Magonia is also spectacularly, wonderfully strange and weird but in the absolutely best way possible. This book will stretch your imagination, and will introduce to you a world that you could have never dreamed of (and that, in itself, is a wonderful gift).
I can understand why Magonia may not appeal to some. A lot of things in Magonia don’t make sense. A lot of things in the book seem impossible, even within the realm of fantasy. Magonia may be unique, but it also drastically diverges from what is familiar in YA fantasy. Like it or not, the bold risks that Headley took in her storytelling should be praised.
The story adopts a mythology that is completely new and unfamiliar; it isn’t an adaptation of stories already told, but is a spin on a French treatise that argued weather magic called De Grandine et Tonitruis (“On Hail and Thunder”) and the belief that there were ships in the clouds. I loved that Magonia brought a magnificent world to life, a world beyond my imagination. Magonia accomplished in conveying this sense of smallness in our very large universe, and that our understanding of the world is finite. It is a wonderful feeling to be reminded of the infinite beauty and possibilities in our existence, and Magonia evokes that very feeling.
Reading Magonia is like entering a surreal realm filled with colours that don’t exist. Everything was strange, new, and exciting, and filled me with a sense of adventure and appreciation for life and being alive. Blue-feathered pirates, flying whales, birds that live in the lung, songs so powerful they could move mountains — new discoveries are promised in the book’s reading experience. Despite its wild fantasy ideas, something remains true and relevant throughout the novel: we share our world with those of Magonia. And therein lies the heart of the novel: that the things in our world, including you and I, are intertwined with something or someone else. Whether it be Magonia to the Earth, Aza to Jason, or Magonian to songbird, Magonia explores the importance of connection, and the power of connection whether it be familial, friendship, or love.
My favourite part of Magonia was how Headley used song and voice as a medium of power and magic. Other than it being remarkably unique, there’s something profound in the idea of power coming from voice, particularly when the latter is what we use to communicate, to express ourselves, and to connect with one another. The idea of Magonians singing together to create a powerful song draws a beautiful metaphor about collectivity and the strength of togetherness.
Despite its fantastical and heavy magical realism elements, Magonia highlights how the simple, ordinary things are deeply important to us. Despite her extraordinary circumstances, the protagonist, Aza, acts as an anchor in an otherwise fantastical story. Although Aza is incredibly special (more so than she realizes), Headley approaches this affliction with a down-to-earth approach that never forgets her protagonist’s humanity and her humble smallness in a big world. After all she endures, she is a young teenage girl who wants, more than anything, to live a normal life – she wants to find herself, to discover what it means to love and be loved, to be with her family. For something so small and mundane, I really appreciated this small part of Magonia. It never forgets its characters, and never forgets that greatness can be found in small people.
At its heart, Magonia is a simple and unique story about an extraordinary girl who goes on an extraordinary adventure. There is plenty of discovery – and the wonders that come with – and self-discovery too. Magonia is filled with evocative metaphors that say something poignant and meaningful about life and love. It may be very strange and out-there, but that is one of the beautiful and rare things about this book. If you plan to read Magonia, leave all your preconceptions, expectations, assumptions, and how things ought to be and should be at the door. Let Magonia sweep you away; let it charm you with its weirdness, its dreamy landscapes and its world too big for us to comprehend.
Rating: 3.5/5 (2017 rating adjusted)
Book Name: Magonia
Book Series: Magonia #1
Author: Maria Dahvana Headley
Publisher: Harper Collins
Note on the Magonia book review’s banner:
The mainsail is a giant bat.
Giant, as in the size of a living room. A tremendous white-silver bat, its body chained to the mast, its fingerlike bones splayed, stretched out, wings wide open for the wind. It looks down at me, its teeth slightly apart, tasting the air.