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.


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?


This book is more than just a pretty cover.  Neil Gaiman wasn’t too far off in his blurb: “Maria Dahvana Headley is a firecracker: she’s whip smart with a heart, and she writes like a dream.”  Magonia is something electric–a lightning strike with gold-edged feathers that leaves the echo of song in its wake.  Once I started reading, I couldn’t stop, and I tore through it in a single day.  There was so much to pull me in: great narrators, a fantastic new world, and writing that was so on-point, I was alternately green with jealousy and giddy with this new series.

Note:  I did not read the jacket description before I started reading this book.  In fact, I didn’t read the jacket description until after I’d finished, and I was instantly glad that I hadn’t, because I have a sneaking suspicion that, if I had, I would not have enjoyed Magonia nearly as much.  Especially the “best friend turned lover” complex.  I’m wondering if I should make it a rule to not read book jackets, at least when there isn’t money involved.

What Worked For Me

Characters • • • I was immediately drawn in by the lovely main character, Aza.  What made Aza’s voice work was how genuine it sounded.  She sounded like a girl who knew she was dying and was chuffing along anyway, living life with her best friend, trying to adjust to being shouldered with the destiny of being a ship’s savior.  (My one major complaint about her is that she didn’t push back enough, didn’t speak up when I feel like she should have.)  But her naturally electric humor had me giggling more than a few times throughout the story.

World building • • • What a fantastic idea!  Airships = yes.  Cool whales that float alongside the ships and create storms = sign me up.  Bats that were the main mast = I’m down.  But I feel like these things could be expanded on.  What I wanted to see more of was details.  I felt like we got the glaze, when I was expecting more of the substance beneath it.  It felt like Headley went wide instead of deep, and the lack of connection between things made the world come off as cool and shiny, but confusing.

Writing Style • • • In short, the writing was beautiful.  Aza was vulnerable and honest and used adjectives in strange, new ways that were amazing and provocative.  I’m impressed (and slightly relieved) that, given the material of a dying girl, Headley didn’t turn it into that kind of story.  I thought Aza was sarcastic and charming.

The first 10 pages or so are entirely expositional, which wrinkles some people’s noses, but I thought it was an interesting choice.  Also, nothing was explicitly stated about what was particularly wrong with her, and yet I was still happily drawn in to the story.

What Didn’t

Some Parts of the Plot • • • If I were to divide the story into 3 acts, I’d say Act 1 was the strongest.  Introducing Aza’s world and the mystery definitely did its job of pulling me in and securing my sympathy for the characters.  But once I got to Act 2, the tension started to lag for me.  I think the middle part of any story is hard for most writers because how do you successfully maintain tension without ruining the impact of your climax?  I didn’t have a problem with Act 2 as I was reading it, but once I went back and looked at it again, I realized that it fell flat for me.  Which ruined my enjoyment for Act 3 a bit, because I felt that the expectations set in Act 2 weren’t defined enough to be effective at the end.

Maybe the POV change • • • The POV changes occasionally (not consistently) between Aza and Jason.  I liked having Jason’s POV as a subplot because he actually evolved as a character over the course of the book: he faced challenges that he overcame, and he made sacrifices and choices that he would have to deal with.  His priorities solidified.  But I wouldn’t say that any of Jason’s perspectives moved the plot forward in any way, so I question their relevance.  However, I was charmed enough by his narration and character that I wasn’t overly fussed by it.


A great start to a series!  Despite a few areas I felt were lacking for me, it was a quick and easy read that I enjoyed and am still down for continuing.

Book Info

320 pages • Book 1 • Published April 2015 by HarperCollins


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