Magonia by Maria Dahvana Headley


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 Information
Book Name: Magonia
Book Series: Magonia #1
Author: Maria Dahvana Headley
Publisher: Harper Collins
Format: Audiobook

Magonia in:
Goodreads | Book Depository | Amazon | My review on Goodreads

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.


24 thoughts on “Magonia by Maria Dahvana Headley

  1. What an amazing review, once again, and THAT ART. <3 I have to say, I was a bit confused about this whole book when I read it. The whole story was maybe a bit too weird for me, and it took me so many time to get accustomed to it, that I ended up only rating it 3 stars. It's not that bad, I guess? But with your wonderful review, I have to say that you make me want to re read that book with this completely different vision of things. You're definitely right, in that this book challenges us, and take our imagination way, way father than we thought it could go. There are beautiful metaphors and an interesting, definitely out of the ordinary universe here, and that, I noticed it, and enjoyed it, even if I couldn't get into it and love it as much as you did. Maybe it's because I'm not a huge fantasy reader, and going directly in that story wasn't the right choice, maybe for people who are more used to reading about fantasy world, this would appeal to them more at first sight? I don't know if that makes sense, ahah, but anyways, this was a wonderful review that really gives me some new perspective about that book. Thank you!

    • Ah, thank you again for such a thoughtful comment Marie! You’re such a star.

      I can see where you are coming from; it is pretty bold and crazy, but I really liked it! I think I got swept away by the beautiful writing and its ideas.

      You make a good point! Maybe. I think Magonia appealed to my inner child when I used to believe that there were beings that lived outside of human awareness. It reminded me of how I used to think about that a lot and how I don’t anymore – so it was a bit sentimental too!

      Thank you too, Marie!

  2. I’m glad you enjoyed this one! I thought it was a beautiful concept, and I loved how imaginative it was, but I felt it got too confusing. For me, there was too many ideas, and they weren’t explained enough, so in the middle, I didn’t have much clue as to what was going on. I liked the romance though! There was room for a love triangle, but there wasn’t one which I was so grateful for.

    The art you made for this book is so beautiful, cw! Stunning review, as always, too <3
    Denise | The Bibliolater

    • Hi Denise! I completely understand; there were some parts where I felt lost too, but the audiobook was so enchanting that I just got swept away with it! I’m glad there wasn’t a love triangle too, especially since Jason and Aza were already adorable together.

      Thank you so much Denise!! I’m really happy with how this one turned out. ^_^ Ahh you’re too kind!

  3. Gorgeous review! I was pleasantly surprised by this book – it was so breathtakingly original. It was such a great reading experience, and I can’t wait for the sequel. (Also, this series has some awesome covers!)

    • Hi Hannah, thank you! I completely agree; the originality of the story and writing enchanted me. I can’t wait for Aerie too! I can’t wait to see what else Headley will introduce to Magonia. <3

  4. I read this book last year and I really liked it! Yes, it totally felt “weird”, in the same way that The Strange and Beautiful Sorrows of Ava Lavender – which I LOVE! – I really liked the world. However, I can say that after a year, I don’t remember much of the story but the concept and the beginning. At first, I thought it would be a standalone – it would be okay this way – but apparently a sequel is coming out this year (with a stunning cover, btw). I’m glad you enjoyed it, great review! :)

    • Thanks Lucie! I’m glad you enjoyed it too. I LOVED The Strange and Beautiful Sorrows of Ava Lavender – such a beautiful and magical book – and yes, quite strange but wonderful like Magonia!

      To be honest, I read this last year too (hehe) and I don’t remember the specifics. I just remember how magical it was, with the birds living in the lung and the singing. Such profound metaphors!

      I heard!! The cover is gorgeous; I can’t wait to read Aerie!

  5. I didn’t know that this one is an adaptation :o It seems really interesting, but I’ve never been a fan of purple prose, so we’ll see how it goes. It sounds so beautiful yet I’ve seen a lot of people dislike it because of the prose so I was kind of scared. But I would read it if the time comes. Great review!<3

    • Ooh I’d encourage you to give it a go! There isn’t much purple prose at all; I think I searched really hard for the small meaningful things. ^_^; It’s written quite simply if memory serves me right! But yes, if you do give it a go, let me know! <3

  6. I completely agree CW! This was such a strange and bizarre book, but in the best possible way. I’m so glad you enjoyed it as much as I did! Thanks for sharing and, as always, fabulous review! <3

  7. I don’t typically click on reviews for books I haven’t read (because I’m that anti-spoilers after being jaded by Tumblr nonsense), BUT CAN I JUST SAY HOW JEALOUS I AM THAT YOUR REVIEW BANNER GOT A FULL TREATMENT WHILE I’M THINKING BACK ON THAT POKEMON “BOY’S WHO READ” NONSENSE LOL…

    It’s nice to see a solid review from this book since I’ve mostly heard negative things that turned me off from picking this one up.

  8. Your artwork for all your reviews looks beautiful! Magonia, in particular looks AMAZING! I love how its sat on a book, looks so creative <3
    It's so funny. I've had the opposite reaction/opinion towards Magonia! It was my least favourite book read in 2015. Whilst I did appreciate how beautifully it was written. I just found the story wayy too weird and bizarre for my liking. I do love weird in stories but on this occasion I just didn't get it. I was disappointed that I didn't like it as hope as I'd hope because the summary sounded really interesting and magical! Anyway I'm really glad you liked it :) you've written a lovely and in-depth review, as always!

  9. […] Magonia by Maria Dahvana Headley – If you’ve read my review, all of you know how much I adored Magonia. Extremely unique and imaginative, this book is an incredible adventure and has a wonderful way of filling you with wonder and a deep appreciation for the beauty of life. Magonia is an adventure with a huge and bold heart. (Goodreads, my review) […]

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