The premise here is: What if your sibling went to magic school and you’re a muggle? And what if you’re a private detective hired to solve a murder at a magic school? Both of these are intriguing separately. Together, I could not resist this book. Unfortunately, I did not like it nearly as much as I wanted to. Parts of it were stellar, and parts of it absolutely did not work for me.
Our narrator is Ivy Gamble, a struggling private detective whose twin sister was magical and went away to magical boarding school. Her sister Tabitha is a teacher at the magical high school she used to go to. The two girls are now estranged. Ivy doesn’t normally (or ever) work murder cases, but due to her connection with Tabitha, the principal hires her to look into the death of one of the teachers, whose body was found bisected in the library. The magical authorities have deemed it an accident, but the principal suspects foul play, so Ivy comes to live on campus for a bit while she investigates.
Basically, half of that above premise worked for me, and half (mostly) did not. The part that worked almost all the way for me was everything to do with the murder and the investigation, as well as the school (the suspects, teachers, the victim). I thought Gailey did a great job really playing with the ideas she was working with and it was very satisfying and entertaining. Ivy is also a pretty good investigator (although, not in her or the author’s favor that I was able to guess two main twists before the main character did, in one case long before, and I am terrible at figuring mysteries out, so this is a very bad sign). The worldbuilding for the magic in a contemporary setting was unique enough to feel fresh. It was almost like realistic fiction, if magic were involved. Just like, magic is ho-hum every day stuff. That kind of vibe.
The part that did not work for me was Ivy’s emotional arc. Some of the stuff with her and Tabitha bonding and trying to overcome their estrangement had me feeling feelings. But overall, Ivy is just the type of person who does nothing but feel sorry for herself, mixed up with some low-self esteem and low-key self-hatred. This was not fun to read about! I did not like Ivy! Except for when she was being good at her job. I like when people are good at their jobs. And it’s not like I have an objection to reading about characters who are dissatisfied with their lives, who are sad, unhappy, or bitter. I don’t mind at all when it’s done well! There was just something about Ivy and her wah wah wah attitude that really rubbed me the wrong way. She is also an asshole! A self-sabotaging one! She absolutely 100% deserved what happened to her in a pivotal scene involving another teacher.
I think that I would still recommend people check this out for the murder investigation alone, and you might click with Ivy more than I did. (Am now feeling slightly more trepidation about picking up any more of this author’s books.)