I’ve not had a lot of luck with things highly recommended and hyped by authors whose works I’ve enjoyed. V.E. Schwab might be an exception. I found out about the impending publication of Magic For Liars from her social media, and picked it up as soon as it came out. The descriptions of the premise as something between Harry Potter and The Magicians is also reasonably accurate; another point for the book, since I frequently don’t quite agree with the blurbs either. The basic idea is that Ivy, a non-magic PI with several deep personal issues, takes the case of a potential murder of a teacher at the prestigious high school for the magically gifted at which her estranged sister Tabitha teaches. Drama both personal and discovered amongst and between faculty and students ensues.
Ivy is a good flawed, complex character, but her habit of repeating “It’s/It’ll be fine.” gets irritating. I get the not so subtle hint about at theme of lying to oneself, but it just happens so often that Ivy ends up seeming a bit passive aggressive and unwilling to face reality, even as she starts to work through learning some things about past family drama and maybe even coming to terms with some of it.
The teachers and staff are the usual array of individuals: the earnest hottie, the strict seemingly all-knowing head-mistress, the incredibly creepy one who is known to date students (why is it always the English teacher?), the slightly unfriendly groundskeeper, and the secretary/school nurse who has hidden depths. The students are mostly typical high-schoolers including the mean girls, the awkward potential Chosen One (but from a really important family), the siblings who hate but maybe secretly are ok with each other, and quite a few secrets are kept.
There isn’t a lot of detail about how magic works in this world, but there is some discussion of general theory since the dead teacher may have been engaging in forbidden or at least strongly discouraged un-tested spell-craft. There’s blackmail, lots of who likes or has dated whom (accompanied by a surprising emphasis on birth control and abortion or pre-natal services from the school nurse), and plenty of betrayal both real and perceived. Ivy is drawn into the world, and there are hints that she actually might have some sensitivity to magic given how she figures out what really happened to Sylvia.
There is also a good bit of inclusivity, at least when it comes to gender and identity. Race is a little less clear, but going by the names, there are at least one or two persons of color involved.
Overall I really liked this novel, some minor complaints aside. I would love to see this world again, but only if Ivy becomes capable of a little personal growth and change, and only if how she treats the reveal about who dunnit/what really happened isn’t so unsatisfying. It’s nothing I haven’t read before, but at the same time, I felt a little like it was forced and somewhat inconclusive because we don’t know what might be the consequences of what Ivy finds out.