The Gremlin’s Library: Magic for Liars by Sarah Gailey

This book and review deal with cancer, abortion, iffy consent re: surgical procedures and manipulation/abuse. This is also a review with spoilers for the WHOLE book, including the whodunit twist – so please read ahead with caution.

Oof, oof, oof. This book was. Hard. I rated it five stars because holy christ I felt EVERYTHING, and the writing is phenomenal! I am just so in love with so much about it –

But, away from the harsh numerics of starred reviews, I still don’t know how I feel. It’s an incredible story. I’m invested. I’m on board in so many ways.

I was also deeply triggered.

Let me be clear. This is in absolutely no way on Sarah Gailey, or Magic for Liars as a book, or any one person really! This is about trigger warnings, and trauma, and how books exploring trauma sometimes take you a little… too deep. I wish I had known sooner in the book, or from a foreword or something, what drove the plot; that cancer was going to be such an important part of the book. I can see why this decision wasn’t made, in large part because it’s not an established tradition in tradpub yet, but I wish the publisher had considered this ahead of time.

A recap: Magic for Liars follows a private detective, one of a pair of twin sisters, as she’s invited to a magical school to solve a murder. Ivy Gamble has spent most of her life pretending she’s not bitter that she got the magic and that her sister didn’t; her sister went to an upscale magical boarding school, and Ivy remained ordinary. Ivy coming to the school is her first real time spent in the magical school, and with her sister in years upon years.

The high school aspects of this were interesting, but not the focus, which I was glad for. Ivy and Tabitha’s relationship, though – that’s the center of the book, and it does a beautiful job. Beautiful, but terrifying.

SPOILERS BEGIN HERE

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As it turns out, the dead teacher was Tabitha’s lover; even the more so, she was dying of cancer, the same disease that killed Ivy and Tabitha’s murder. It takes a while for all the pieces to come together, but the end result is this: Tabitha was trying to cure her lover, arrogant to a fault, and stayed awake doing a magical surgery for three days.

And then, she fell asleep. And the damage was done.

This is a perfect plot element, but it’s almost retraumatizing, in that I feel every single bit of pain here. Tabitha, arrogant and intelligent and desperate, tearing somebody apart because she fell asleep for a split second. And Ivy. Poor Ivy, manipulated by her sister into believing that they could have a relationship, when ultimately Tabitha was the culprit the whole time.

Like I said, I’m still trying to figure out how I feel about this book. The five-star rating is genuine; but this book hurt. Not because of what it got wrong; because of how, how much it got right.

I do highly recommend it to anybody who isn’t triggered by these topics, and I will 100% be reading more of Sarah Gailey’s work! But publishers, please take heed. Trigger warnings are everybody’s friend.

Magic for Liars is available through Macmillan!

(If you like my reviews, consider leaving me a tip through Ko-Fi! I do these all for free as a labour of love.)

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