Flights of Fantasy #1: Magonia by Maria Dahvana Headley

MagoniaI just finished reading Magonia and my brain feels completely fried. I saw this book on a few bloggers’ ‘Best of 2015’ lists and it sounded interesting; a year ago, I probably wouldn’t have read it but 2015 was the year in which I discovered that I actually really like fantasy novels, having been a staunch fan of realism before.

I actually think I wouldn’t have been able to cope with Magonia before; it is
genuinely one of the weirdest books I can remember reading, in a really good way. Its oddness may have been accentuated by the fact that the book I read before was one of the most pointless and uneventful books of literally all time, and yet was somehow on the Booker shortlist last year. So after a 172-page book in which nothing whatsoever happened, the relentless pace of Magonia was a bit of a shock to the system.

For therapeutic reasons, I am just going to elaborate on a few of the reasons why Magonia and its intense craziness are going to be buzzing around my head for the next week.

  1. When I started reading, I had completely forgotten the plot outlines I had read before buying it, so I was confused by the reasonably everyday situation outlined in the early chapters; Aza Ray (which, by the way, is an amazing character name) suffers from a debilitating condition which basically renders her unable to breathe, so the first few chapters focus on her very sardonic and cynical approach to life and, in particular, death. Expecting a fantasy setting, this threw me a bit, particularly when Aza is scheduled to undergo a surgical procedure to remove a feather – yes, a feather – from her lung. At this stage, this seemed like a pretty weird thing to have in your lung, but it was quickly surpassed by other out-there events in the novel. So, to begin with, I was basically disorientated by the whole thing.
  2. Magonia is a kind-of mystical place in the skies, where everybody, confusingly, is a pirate, and there are talking owls and people have doors in their chests which they put a bird in and then the people and the birds sing songs and have magic powers. Or something. Which, to me, is pretty weird. I don’t know know how you roll where you come from, but here in windswept Yorkshire, we do not open up our chest cavities for falcons. Anyway, these revelations of bizarreness come thick and fast once the novel moves to its fantasy location, and although they are all obviously completely demented, it all works; rather than being put off by all this strangeness, I was almost daring Maria Dahvana Headley to come up with even more lunatic material. It makes Magonia a wildly unpredictable read, which I like.
  3. The love story between Aza and her childhood friend Jason is genuinely touching; they’re both essentially misfits, and their isolation from the rest of the world forces them closer together. I think I am probably too old and jaded to “ship” fictional romantic pairings (the kids I teach would agree, because they had to correct me on what “shipping” actually meant and that was a pretty chastening conversation) but I felt particularly warm feelings towards this couple towards the end of Magonia.
  4. Something else I liked was the writing style, especially in the dialogue. To sound really pretentious and English teacher-y about it, I enjoyed the juxtaposition of overwhelmingly bizarre fantasy settings and situations with Aza’s very Earthbound (albeit brilliantly written and humorously executed) narrative. Aza is a stranger to her new surroundings, so her reactions are also the reader’s reactions, and the inherent differences between Aza and the Magonians is perfectly emphasised by Maria Dahvan Headley’s style.

Hurray! This will be my first review of 2016 and my first proper contribution to the #flightsoffantasy challenge. I am excited about reading more crazy books which will make my brain feel like it did that time I ate too many Haribo Tangfastics while on an A-level training course  and felt too out-of-it to drive home.

Have you read Magonia? If you have, I’d love to discuss it. If you haven’t, you should.


4 thoughts on “Flights of Fantasy #1: Magonia by Maria Dahvana Headley

  1. gill says:

    I just couldnt get into this at all as you say it is a very strange novel. I didnt work hard enough to connect with it though.
    Incidentally what does shipping mean? im curious ;-D
    you can tell me on Twitter.

    Gill @book_magpie

    Liked by 1 person

    • Katy Goodwin-Bates says:

      Do you know, I have now confused myself about shipping. I think it comes from “relationship,” and being really into the relationship betwee characters. Although I thought it was short for “worshipping” which I still think makes more sense!


  2. Blaise @ thebookboulevard says:

    I didn’t seem to think it was as weird as everyone else, but then I know I have a high tolerance for weirdness in general. I loved this book, too, and I felt the writing in particular was spectacular. I really want to reread it and deconstruct how she created Aza’s voice.


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