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Literature / Magic for Liars

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Ivy Gamble was born without magic and never wanted it.
Ivy Gamble is perfectly happy with her life – or at least, she’s perfectly fine.
She doesn't in any way wish she was like Tabitha, her estranged, gifted twin sister.
Ivy Gamble is a liar.

Magic for Liars is a 2019 Urban Fantasy Detective Drama written by Sarah Gailey.

Ivy Gamble is a Private Detective who spends her days following cheating spouses and drinking. And then she gets a visit from the Headmaster of the Osthorne Academy of Young Mages, a school for magic users. The Headmaster wants her to solve a gruesome murder that the magical authorities have already signed off as an "accident." Ivy wants to go to the school that her sister, Tabitha, teaches at and see how the other half live. Because when they were children, Tabitha was magic...and Ivy wasn't.

But as Ivy gets pulled into the case, she begins to get entangled in the inner lives of the staff and the students, from the manic young man who believes he's The Chosen One to the white-haired old woman who is more powerful than anyone around and can disassemble you with a glance.

All in all, Ivy has her work cut out for her. She just has to make sure it doesn't cut her first.

Tropes included in Magic for Liars:

  • Accidental Murder: Tabitha didn't mean to kill Sylvia, she only wanted to take out all the cancer. But the operation lasted three days and by the end, Tabitha was so tired, she fell asleep.
  • Alpha Bitch: Alexandria DeCambrey leads an elite clique. She cycles members in or out based on their character traits, is casually cruel to students and staff alike, and engages vicious retribution.
  • Always Murder: The National Magical Investigative Service (or the 'miz) have already declared Sylvia's death to be "accidental" due to trying an untested Theoretical Magic spell, but Headmaster Torres believes this trope and so she hires Ivy. It turns out that it was accidental, just by Tabitha, Ivy's sister, not Sylvia.
  • Attention Whore: Alexandria again. She makes sure that everyone in her clique has their own separate "thing"; her thing is being the leader.
  • Badass Normal: Ivy isn’t magic, but her ability to read people’s motivations by their behavior and set people up to be in a certain frame of mind is on par with theoretical Emotion Control magic that is said to be impossiblenote . Beyond that, her renown as a Private Detective is strong enough for the headmaster of a magical school (where even the students have access to investigative spells) to seek her out for a job.
  • Blackmail: Ivy believes the entire case hinges around this, the fact that Alexandria was blackmailing Sylvia into providing an abortion potion to Courtney, but wouldn't do it, so Alexandria killed her. But it turns out that Alexandria also blackmailed Tabitha into doing an abortion spell.
  • Brilliant, but Lazy: Alexandria, who came up with a graffiti spell so advanced that nobody could remove it, but still failed one of her tests. Which led her to try to blackmail her teacher.
  • Bury Your Gays: Played with. It turns out that Tabitha and Sylvia were dating before Sylvia died. But Ms. Torres reports that there are students who are LGBT - specifically lesbian and pansexual - and nothing bad happens to them or Rahul, who is bi.
  • Cast from Hit Points: The alarm spell Mrs. Webb uses in the prologue badly damages her throat to the point that she speaks hoarsely throughout the story.
  • The Chosen One: Dylan DeCambrey believes he's the Chosen One, because his family has a whole Prophecy about one it. It turns out that it's actually his half-sister Alexandria.
  • Consummate Liar: Of all the times Ivy bends the truth, bluffs, leads, and outright lies, she’s caught only once, and only because she was distracted enough to slip on a minor detail.
  • Deconstruction: Of the Harry Potter-type of magic and Wizarding School — just like Lily and Petunia, Tabitha was a magic user, while Ivy wasn't and this created a lot of resentment for Ivy, especially when their mother died of cancer. And the Osthorne Academy is just as messed up as high school, including having a clique of popular girls and teachers having affairs with each other.
    • There's even a subplot about a boy who thinks he's The Chosen One due to a Prophecy. He isn't.
  • Disproportionate Retribution: Rahul gave Alexandria a D grade. Alexandria shattered his car.
  • Doublethink: During her time at Osthorne Academy, Ivy keeps seeing two versions of herself - a version of her who grew up with magic, and the person she actually is.
  • Education Through Pyrotechnics: Tabitha uses an electricity arc demonstration as a classroom exercise. At least one student sees it go out of hand before safety measures kick in.
  • Emotion Control: Several examples
    • Ivy believes Alexandria has this power, but is told that it's basically impossible. Which is the first indication that Alexandria is the Chosen One, not Dylan.
    • Ivy knows enough about psychology to draw out her suspects, explicitly stating which emotions she's targeting and how she's bringing them up.
    • In the climax Dylan is subjected to a spell that results in him coughing up a marble containing his obsession with the Prophecy, relieving him of his enormous anxiety.
  • Fantasy Contraception: Subverted — it turns out that regular contraceptives are better than magical ones. At one point, however, Mrs. Webb laments that girls don't learn the old spells.
  • Hates Being Nicknamed: Alexandria does not like being called Alex it's because she went by Alex when she was a freshman and didn't have her Alpha Bitch persona or blonde hair (it was brown)
  • Healing Magic Is the Hardest: One of the hardest magics to do, according to Ms. Torres. At one point, though, Mrs. Webb shows how powerful she by taking Ivy's shoulder apart, removing an infection, and putting it back together. It turns out that this is what the entire case revolves around: Tabitha, having been traumatized by her mother's early death from cancer, decided to go into Theoretical Magic to learn how to heal it, only to be told it was impossible. When it turned out that her girlfriend Sylvia had cancer, too, she made sure everything was in place for her to, basically, disassemble Sylvia's body and remove the cancer. Unfortunately, as she finished the operation after three days awake, she fell asleep, resulting in Sylvia's death.
  • Heroic Self-Deprecation: For all the time she spends playing other people like a fiddle, in a manner that mages can only dream of, Ivy remains convinced that she’s worthless because she can’t perform magic.
  • I Just Want to Be Special: Ivy spends most of the book wistfully imagining what her life could have been like if she were magic instead of a Muggle.
  • Karma Houdini: Ivy lets her sister get away with accidentally killing Sylvia (who was already dying of cancer), telling her only that she needs to leave the school and talk to someone about it.
  • Ludicrous Gibs: How Sylvia Capley is found. Later on, Alexandria accidentally does this to her half-brother Dylan when it turns out that she's the Chosen One and not him. Thankfully, she is able to reverse it and bring him back to life.
  • Lying to the Perp: Ivy prefers to lead her interview subjects on or use Reverse Psychology to convince them to tell her what she wants to know, but she sometimes outright bluffs by stringing together clues and accusing people of things she’s only guessing at.
  • Magi Babble: Rahul Chaundrey is the teacher of "physical magic," but when he tries to explain what that is to Ivy, it comes across like this. Ivy often complains about the metaphors her sister used about magic, saying they made no sense at all, but in the end, she uses one to help Alexandria put back together Dylan after accidentally exploding him.
  • Magic A Is Magic A: Mrs. Webb explains to Ivy that magic is exactly like science — i.e. that they are continually exploring what can be done with it and there are still elements of it that they have no knowledge of or believe are impossible. Still, the "rules" to magic are often incredible obtuse and only understandable if you are a magic user (or "mage").
  • Magical Abortion: If the pregnancy is still in its early stages, a person can be given potions that will abort the pregnancy. The problem is that after ten weeks those potions are no longer effective, but there is a more medical procedure that can be done. Alexandria blackmailed Tabitha into doing the medical procedure on Courtney, which basically meant disassembling her, removing the fetus, and reassembling her. And since Tabitha forgot to give Courtney a sedative, she saw the whole thing.
  • Masquerade: A paper-thin one. Mages are born unpredictably and are only identified if they demonstrate their innate spellcasting in the presence of an adult mage. The child's parents are then informed of the mage school system and the child is routed for extra education. There aren't many mages (across the United States there are only twelve high schools with perhaps a few hundred students).
  • Motivational Lie: Ivy frequently uses false reassurances to get someone through a rough patch, such as telling a client she’ll find the answers even though what the client really wants (without even knowing it themselves) is for the misdeed being investigated to be undone.
  • Muggles: Ivy is one — the only reason she knows about magic at all is because her sister was recruited into one of the magical schools.
  • Muggle–Mage Romance: Ivy ends up going on several dates with another teacher at the school, Rahul Chaundrey. However, she doesn't tell him that she isn't a mage. He only finds out when she slips up and doesn't know something fundamental that every mage learns their first year of school. He's hurt that she would lie to him and the book ends with her waiting outside his door to apologize, but we never know if he opens it.
  • Private Detective: Ivy Gamble, the main character.
  • Prophecies Are Always Right: Dylan DeCambreyis obsessed with fulfilling an old family prophecy since the circumstances are correct and the only other candidate is his shallow half-sister Alexandria. She fulfills the prophecy by demonstrating ability beyond known magic, in the process freeing him from his obsession.
  • Repressed Memories: Mrs. Webb uses a charm to remove her own traumatic memories, assumedly the discovery of Sylvia's dismembered body. Ivy and the other staff find it pretty creepy since she's doing it in the teacher's lounge.
  • Red Herring: Several.
    • Mr. Toff, the sleazy teacher who seems to be sleeping with a student, turns out to have no part in the case.
    • Tabitha deliberately plants a few red herrings to throw Ivy off the case.
  • Rich Sibling, Poor Sibling: A lowkey example in Ivy and Tabitha. Private investigator Ivy's inconsistent income has put her behind on her bills to the point that she doesn't even see Torres' offer as optional. High school teacher Tabitha has stable employment and a bright future in theoretical magic research.
  • The Social Expert: Ivy can figure out what motivates a person and how to get them to do what she wants, feel what she wants them to feel, or tell her what she needs to know within minutes of talking to them.
  • Shock and Awe: Ivy sees some students playing with electricity early on and later, when confronting Alexandria, her sister Tabitha uses it.
  • Superpowerful Genetics: Ivy explains to a bartender early on that magic exists, but only a people who "are magic" can use it. Ivy's sister Tabitha was magic. Ivy was not, which means even if she wanted to, she couldn't do magic.
  • Twin Desynch: Ivy and Tabitha were born fraternal twins and had similar early lives until Tabitha demonstrated magic powers. Tabitha went to a different (better) school and was free to follow her passions; Ivy stayed home, watched their mother die from cancer and her father destroyed by the loss, and generally coasted through high school to become a low-rent private investigator. When they reunite Ivy's desire to rebuild their sisterhood is in constant tension with how far they've grown apart.
  • Unreliable Narrator: Ivy opens the narrative by saying she’ll tell the truth in this story, but she lies to herself so often that it bleeds through to the text. It gets to a point where it is obvious when she does it.
  • Wizarding School: The Osthorne Academy is one of twelve schools in the United States. Tabitha Gamble went to a different school called Headley. They generally aren't anything like Hogwarts, more akin to a regular high school that also teaches magic, but there is a Theoretical Magic section in the library that is off-limits to students.
  • You Can Always Tell a Liar: Ivy has enough experience with people to not only tell when someone has something to hide, but often why.