Author: Maria Dahvana Headley
Genre: YA Fantasy
Synopsis: Aza Ray Boyle 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—but as she navigates her new life, she discovers that war between Magonia and Earth is coming. In Aza’s hands lies fate of the whole of humanity—including the boy who loves her. Where do her loyalties lie?
I was a little surprised by how much I liked this book. A race of birds? Songbirds that fly in and out of people’s lungs? Sky vessels and squallwhales? There’s plenty of quirkiness to go around, and while it might catch some readers off guard, I found it utterly charming and entrancing!
The worldbuilding was fresh and delightful. I mean, sky vessels?! Maybe it’s a holdover from Disney’s Peter Pan or my love for Goonies and, more recently, Stardust, but I’ve always been captivated by the idea of tall ships sailing the skies. And squallwhales?! I love the idea of giant cloud-wreathed leviathans breathing our weather into being with their songs. MAGONIA fueled my imagination in that rare way that calls to mind childhood wonder and daydreaming just for the joy of it.
Speaking of songs, music lovers will enjoy how Dahvana Headley positions the magic of her music in MAGONIA. It literally has the power to create and destroy. Though this isn’t a new concept in fantasy, her approach feels unique and strangely subtle, given its importance in the book’s climax.
Yet, as much as I loved the worldbuilding, my favorite aspect of MAGONIA was its characters—especially Aza and Jason. They are quirkily perfect for each other and, unlike the insta-love of many YA books these days, readers get to see their deep friendship and love grow throughout the book without being hit over the head with it. Their commitment to each other feels real and extremely strong.
That’s thanks in large part to the fact that they’re both individually strong characters and hilariously funny at times in a dead-pan, inside-joke way that made their voices distinctive and fun to read. They’re each smart, sarcastic and clever. I laughed out loud more than once!
One caveat though: You’ll know by the end of the first chapter if Aza’s voice works for you or not. She can come close to being overpowering or too stream of consciousness-y. I enjoyed it, but it won’t work for everyone.
The first third of the book is almost entirely about battling Aza’s illness on Earth and has an almost “Bridge to Terabithia” feel to it, which I found endearing. The second third introduces readers more deeply to Magonia, the world in the sky, and its inhabitants, and the third wraps up a nice break-in / sky-singing battle climax.
Each of these sections carried a slightly different tone and pacing, and it’s Aza’s and Jason’s voices that anchor the reader and keep drawing us in. The plot does veer a little thin about half-way through the book, or at least I kept expecting more from it, given various hints along the way. The climax itself is very satisfactory, though without the personal stakes of Aza and Jason, I think the external stakes (stealing plants – albeit really rare and cool plants!) would have fallen short for me.
For all the time Aza spends in Magonia, I wish we could know a few of the characters better—especially Dai, Aza’s crewmate and singing partner with a tragic background and mysterious allegiances, and Zal and Ley, captains who played a big role in Aza’s time on Earth and who still have major scores to settle. But, part of my reason for wanting more is that Dahvana Headley paints beautiful descriptions and mysteries that make you want to dive in and learn ALL the reasons.
I did really love Caru, the heartbird. He is everything majestic, free and loyal that you could possibly imagine about a bird of prey. I also had a soft spot for the batsail, who is at once noble and sad. These are great examples of how MAGONIA moves beyond a typical YA to touch deeper heartstrings, deeper lessons of life. I love, love, love books that do this well!
Another element that made me tear up was Dahvana Headley’s lovely and loving portrayal of family. The simple yet ever-strong ties between Aza and her Earth-bound family are frankly breathtaking in several places, and Jason’s family too is close-knit and wonderful.
So, MAGONIA, a bit of quirk, a dash of wonder, and a whole lot of fun!
Find this book on Amazon.