Final Ruling: 5/5 stars
Magonia absolutely took my breath away (so much so that I had to run outside to try and glimpse a skyship of my own).
The characters are shockingly vivid, the plot is unlike anything I have ever read before (and I am a ravenous reader so that is truly saying something), the emotion written into every word brought me to tears, and the twists and turns left me breathless (pun wholeheartedly intended).
The characters, in my opinion, were what pushed this book over the top, transforming it into something more than a fluffy fantasy novel, something to be admired, something from which there is a plethora of things to learn. Not only did Headley create these 3-dimensional characters that seemed to leap off the page and into reality, but wrote in a way that the scope of minority representation was incredibly vast, on a scale that is exceedingly difficult to find anywhere. She flawlessly integrated realistic disability, established LGBTQ+ relationships, commentary on racism and sexism, as well as platonic male-female relationships into a world too fantastical to believe yet just realistic enough to be plausible. Her characters are what make this world of literal aliens unfathomably plausible, letting a doubt of reality into the mind of the reader through legitimate historical precedent and the realistic depiction of a debilitating illness. It is even said by the author herself in the Acknowledgements of the novel that the legends of a strange land in the clouds called “Magonia” are completely legitimate, and documented in various historical texts. Thus, a seed of doubt is planted in the minds of the readers, one that blooms into the possibility of belief in such a fantastical world. Along with that historical precedent, the mysterious illness from which Aza suffers provides a very skillfully integrated doorway into this other world. Aza literally dies in the beginning of the book, just after Headley forms an attachment between her and the reader forged from an admiration of her bravery, compassion for her situation, and the unbridled passion in her heart that the reader is introduced to mere pages before her demise. Aza is someone to be admired, someone to be loved, someone to be taken care of, and somebody that I realize anybody would be incredibly lucky to have in their lives. The catalyst that is Aza’s death is used as an introduction into the deeper workings of another soon-to-be major character: Jason. Sweet and adoring Jason. He is revealed to be this beautiful knight in shining armor for Aza, someone who compiles knowledge like a dragon hoarding treasure, in the futile hope that he will have in his mind everything that Aza could ever need. He would literally move mountains for her, or if not move mountains, then commit multiple felonies and completely disregard the American legal system in pursuit of her well-being. Jason, as the book progresses, becomes one of Aza’s strongest remaining ties to Earth, and eventually the person who helps her save herself in the face of complete world annihilation. Truth be told, I was waiting with some degree of apprehension for the seemingly inevitable love triangle that would develop between Jacob, Aza, and Dai. However, I was very very pleasantly surprised when that trite situation did not occur. Aza and Jacob were meant to be, and there is no denying that. In addition to the complicated protagonists, the antagonists are just as well-rounded and complex. At first, the true antagonist is not revealed, and is instead hidden within what seems to be an additional protagonist. Zal is quite obviously the protagonist of her own story, but through a shocking twist, ends up being the antagonist of everybody else’s. Headley creates an antagonist that people can relate to, somebody that some can even come to sympathize with, thus creating ca complicated moral situation for the reader as well as for the other characters. My goodness, that type of story is incredibly rare, and it was like a breath of fresh Magonian air to see it utilized so beautifully. The world of Magonia is brimming with kick butt women, women antagonists who don’t revolve completely around men, women who are leaders, pirate queens, ship captains, and sailors, making wonderfully crafted feminism one of the many underlying veins of this tale.
I could seriously go on for countless hours about this modern literary masterpiece, but some things are better to experience, not just read about. That being said, I would passionately recommend this book to anybody who would listen.