Once there was a girl who couldn’t breathe the air of earth. Her lungs required a different oxygen, the air of a world above the clouds where a bird lived in her chest and ships sailed through the blue of the sky like they sail through oceans. This is the world of Magonia. Beautiful, quirky, and sweet, Magonia, Maria Dahvana Headley’s first young adult novel, delivers a unique and dreamy first installment.
Magonia follows Aza Ray, a girl born with a rare and deadly lung condition that makes it difficult to breathe. No doctor can figure her out, but that’s because she’s really from a world in the sky called Magonia. Above the clouds, on a ship in the sky, Aza learns she not only can breathe, but also be powerful for the first time in her difficult life. But a war is looming that could destroy Earth and Magonia, and Aza isn’t sure which world she should be worried about saving.
Aza is a character I sort of liked, sort of hated. She’s snarky and bitter, which is understandable for a person in her situation, but sometimes she just came off whiny. I’m aware she has a really terrible disease and a looming expiration date, and that would be crushing to anybody’s attitude, but I still found myself skimming as she self-loathed. But Aza is still intelligent and funny in a sardonic way that I appreciated. I can see her character becoming a lot more likable in book two.
What Magonia really has going for it is its originality. Never before have I read a book based off of Magonia. It turns out Frankish people in 815 really believed there existed a world above the clouds where criminal sailors lived. I love mythology that is based on history, especially when that mythology is obscure. It’s an intriguing premise coupled with a witty, snappy writing style that saved the story from dragging or feeling trite.
Jason, the romantic interest, is adorable and sickeningly sweet. The angst was kept to a minimum, and he’s not even in it all that much, which made for a stronger story. It would’ve been easy to reduce all of Aza’s struggles to a silly quest for love, but Headley managed to avoid that.
The world of Magonia could’ve been a little better developed, but it was charming nonetheless. Stormsharks and heartbirds and squallwhales and batsails and a myriad of other strange and wonderful creatures make Magonia really feel magical. It certainly has a lot of imagination, and at times is pulsing with life. The world of Magonia is enchanting in all the ways I was anticipating.
While far from being the best book I’ve read this year, Magonia stills brings a lot to the table, and is deserving of the Neil Gaiman blurb on the cover. I had set high expectations and was somewhat disappointed when the story didn’t transform me into a gushy mess of booklove, but with that being said, I still plan on reading the next installment, if only to get another glance at the awesomeness of stormsharks.