Author: Maria Dahvana Headley
Publication Date: June 4th 2015
Publisher: Harper Collins
~A copy was provided by the publisher in exchange for an honest review~
Neil Gaiman’s Stardust meets John Green’s The Fault in Our Stars in this fantasy about a girl caught between two worlds... two races…and two destinies.
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. Magonia.
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?
How to describe Magonia? I don't know how, so I'll just go with wow. There. I can't say I 100% got it, because I didn't, it got confusing at times, especially when Aza gets to Magonia, but not totally getting it doesn't necessarily mean I didn't like it, in fact, I freaking loved it despite that. You know all those comparisons X meets Y that are rather annoying at times because they are not even close to describing the book? This isn't one of them. I totally get why it was Stardust meets The Fault in Our Stars, but especially The Fault in Our Stars and not for the obvious reasons, the characters weren't the same, and neither was the writing, but it had that same feel to it, in a way characterisation, humour and the lyrical undertone in the writing, but you just have to read it to understand it, because it is unique and original and honestly? I haven't read anything else like it.
The characters in Magonia check all the lists for me, complex, eccentric and quirky, diverse, sarcastic, a little bitter, funny and likeable, try getting all of that into one book. Maria Dahvana Headley does it, with some serious style because it's not just a character for each, all the characters have a little bit of all of it, and even the "bad" characters of the story, that you're not supposed to like but do, have it. Aza on earth isn't physically strong, she's more a shadow of herself, but she makes up for that in personality because that is strong, and she's loud and out there, she makes herself strong. She doesn't have many friends (one, to be exact) in Jason, who's just completely...Jason. They complement each other and get one another. Even the parents. You guys, THE PARENTS. Hands down, the best two sets of parents I've read. Because they're there and let them be themselves, they're supportive but not pushy and they're caring without being overbearing, and you get why both Aza and Jason are the way they are because they're just like them. And you know what? I got all of that from the first couple of chapters.
I won't go too into the Fantasy side of Magonia, because I don't want to spoil anything, and it's hard to explain, so I'll say this. It's different (bird people). And original (I'm saying this a lot, because it is, even if it is based on a french folklore). It's vivid and imaginative. It's clever and brings up some great questions about global warming and what we are doing to our planet. And you know what? It's all down to the writing, and I know you're probably thinking, it's a book, of course it's down to the writing, but not all books have personalities, and not all books are brought to life by the writing and not just a story written.
Magonia is, in short, exceptional, it's vivid and funny and there's so much going on, but it works into this one amazing imaginative story with exceptional characters and lyrical writing that will make you laugh one minute and cry the next.
Firstly, I want to thank Harper Collins for asking me to be a part of the blog tour and Maria Dahvana Headley for the Q&A, as you can see from above, I adored Magonia,so knew exactly what I wanted to ask (and credit to Saruuh for the last question!)
1) What inspired you to write Magonia? And how much was it based on the French Medieval folk tale?
Hi there! Thanks for these great questions. The folktale you mention is indeed what inspired me to write Magonia - two folktales, actually, one from the 8th century, and one from the 11th. Neither of them go into any detail at all about what Magonia looks like, or how it works, though. All we know is that it's a shipping kingdom in the sky. In one of the stories, an anchor falls out of the clouds, and witnesses on the ground see someone climb down the anchor chain in an attempt to untangle it, and drown in our atmosphere as though drowning in the sea. That's basically the whole story, and it totally inspired Magonia, the notion that a person from up there would not be able to breathe down here, and would constantly feel as though they were drowning. From there, the idea of Aza Ray came into being, but almost everything in the book about the physical description of Magonia and the way it works is my own invention. I also prowled through weather lore from all over the world, of course, and people's interesting ideas about why storms happened. Lots of things from my research ended up as scribbly parts of Magonia. The research that Aza and Jason do in the book is very similar to my own. They are two characters with interests that obviously overlap mine!
2) What would your Magonian name be?
My name is a little bit Magonian already. My middle name is a made up word, though it wasn't supposed to be - the plan was to name me "gift of love" - with Maria sometimes meaning love - and the Latvian word for gift - Davana - being my middle name. (I was delivered by a Latvian midwife.) There was a typo somewhere along the way, and so both the spelling and pronunciation of the Latvian word got lost, and my name because something that's only mine, from no culture at all. When I was little, my grandfather wrote a children's book about a secret valley behind a waterfall (The Mystery of the Pink Waterfall, it's called, if you want to go hunt it) and the valley was named Dahvana Valley, so…by the time I was about three, a writer had named his own imaginary country after me. Does it get better than this?
And of course, I had to check it out, and I believe it is this?
3) What was the first scene you wrote for Magonia?
I started right at the beginning, with the first line of chapter one (after the prologue), "My history is hospitals." Hospitals are a kind of alien world too, this half-home, based on care, but they don't feel like home to the people stuck in them, ever. I've always been interested in the way hospitals function as freestanding cities of the sick and of healers. Magonia is about a variety of different worlds, and the hospital is one of them. So, I knew the book needed to begin there, with someone whose history was one alternate world, going as the book progressed, into another one.
4) Magonia touches upon global warming and how we treat our planet in general, was that intended or something that evolved with the story?
I think it's something that's inherent in the first scraps of source material. The other piece of lore about Magonia, the one in which a Bishop writes a letter to another Bishop saying that there are four people in his town who say they're from Magonia, that they've fallen off a ship, and that the town is now up in arms about it - that piece of lore also involves crop theft. That's what the problem is for the town, that these "Magonians" are seen as people who've come to steal crops from the town, because they don't have their own. There are tons of myths like this throughout history, a lot of them explaining crazy weather events. So, I decided that when bringing this into the modern age, how could you leave out climate change? How could you ignore the effects of that, on this sky civilization dependent on human crops to feed their people? You can't. Besides, I didn't want to. We've done, and continue to do, horrible things to the planet and to the people on it. I don't mind saying that I'm pretty pissed off about a variety of topics related to injustice among people who make things vs people who consume things. All that is related to environmental justice as well. This book is political on purpose, but I think it can also easily be read by people who don't feel hugely passionate about the same things I do. I just think, everyone should be thinking about it more than we do. Not just individually, but on a corporate scale - and that, perhaps, more than anything.
Couldn't agree more!
5) Magonia ended with more of an open ending, where do you see Aza's story continuing? And is there a sequel?
There is a sequel, which will come out next year! Lots more Magonian action in it, of course, lots of ships, lots of different kinds of canwr, and some major new characters. I wanted Magonia to function as a standalone, but for there to be room to have another book too. You can read the first book happily and feel satisfied, because it does have an end to the story I'm telling, but I left enough loose ends to keep playing in the Magonian world as long as I want to! There are lots more adventures to be had in the second book, with Aza, Jason, Dai, Caru - all the characters we know, and some exciting new ones. And not just Magonia, as far as other worlds are concerned. I'm using some other mythology too, in the sequel. There are so many mysterious stories on Earth, so many ways people have tried to explain the natural world. So I'm using some of that lore.
I, for one, cannot wait for that.
6) If you were stranded on a desert island and only had one book with you, what would it be?
This is not an easy question, but at the moment, it's probably Angela Carter's The Bloody Chamber. By 'at the moment,' I mean I've re-read it many times over the past 20 years, and it's still profoundly exquisite. But if I were stranded on a desert island, I'd be most distressed by not being able to write. I guess I'd be scratching novels in the sand. Or maybe I'd become one of those balladeers who has hundreds of thousands of words memorized, and so when I got rescued from my shipwreck everyone would think I'd lost it, because I'd first yell for someone to type, and then, instead of recounting any adventures, I'd be like "NOVEL ONE. CHAPTER ONE. ONCE UPON A TIME…" and then I'd just talk for two years without stopping, all about imaginary things.
7) In Magonia there are stormsharks and squallwhales, what other marine animals exist in the world of Magonia? (Saruuh's question!)
There are skykraken, which we glimpse in the first book, and will see more of in the second one. Basically, everything we have in our oceans is up there too, in different form. I mixed that together with celestial phenomena, so we see some sun and moon dogs later too, but as far as marine creatures, I think Magonia's got everything. I'll probably put some daydolphins into the second book! I like all the things at the very bottom of the ocean, so I've put a few of those in book two as well, at the very top of the sky. This is a situation where 'the sky's the limit' is actually…not the limit!
Thanks again Maria for answering the questions! :) My question to you people who have already read Magonia, what animal would you want to see in the sequel?
MARIA DAHVANA HEADLEY is the author of the upcoming young adult fantasy novel MAGONIA (HarperCollins), the dark fantasy/alt-history novel QUEEN OF KINGS (Dutton), and the internationally bestselling memoir THE YEAR OF YES (Hyperion). With Neil Gaiman, she is the New York Times-bestselling co-editor of the anthology UNNATURAL CREATURES (HarperChildrens), benefitting 826DC. With Kat Howard, she is the author of the novella THE END OF THE SENTENCE (Subterranean Press) - one of NPR's Best Books of 2014.
Her Nebula and Shirley Jackson Award-nominated short fiction has recently appeared in Lightspeed, Uncanny, Nightmare, Tor.com, Shimmer, Apex, The Journal of Unlikely Entomology, Subterranean Online, The Toast, and more. She is anthologized in the 2012 and 2013 editions of Rich Horton's The Year's Best Fantasy & Science Fiction, Paula Guran's 2013 The Year's Best Dark Fantasy & Horror, and Wastelands 2, Glitter & Mayhem, Jurassic London's The Lowest Heaven, The Book of the Dead, and Laird Barron's The Year's Best Weird Fiction, Volume 1.
Her essays have been published and covered in places ranging from The New York Times to Harvard's Nieman Storyboard, and range from creative nonfiction to analysis of topics such as the ethics of writing about a vulnerable subject, inequitable gender representation in mainstream media , and sexual harassment in geek culture.
She grew up in rural Idaho on a survivalist sled-dog ranch, spent part of her teens sewing Shakespearean corsets in a costume shop, part of her 20's in the maritime industry dealing with ships, pirates, and the search for Amelia Earhart's plane, and now lives in Brooklyn in an apartment shared with a seven-foot-long stuffed crocodile, and a heap of French anatomical charts from the 1950's. Her work has been supported by The MacDowell Colony, and Arte Studio Ginestrelle, among other fantastic organizations.