It’s a lesser-known rule in the reading community, but when a book begins with magical manslaughter, it’s mandatory that it’s read it all the way through. When that magical manslaughter also happens to involve an exploding penis, you know you’ve found yourself a true gem.
When We Were Magic begins with a murder. A murder that forces this group of friends to put themselves on the line to protect their secret and each other. Alas, they fail. Twice. This is them dealing with the consequences.
Alexis (Alex) is our main character, and she loves her friends. Her dads force her to engage in Conflict Resolution because theirs is not a yelling household. She talks to animals. She also may or may not be in love with her best friend. There also may or may not be something very horribly wrong with her that causes her to hurt people. Anyways.
Paulie is the cool one. Not because she wears a powder blue suit to prom, which is truly iconic, but because she’s a risk-taker with experimental magic.
Roya is the funny one. She’s the healer. A swimmer. She’s adopted, just like Alex, her best friend. Speaking of that, those two have… things to work out.
Iris is the brains of the operation. The magic channeler and spell crafter. The glowy-eyed boss lady. What would they do without her?
Marcelina is the badass. She’s a hard-working waitress. She’s the mediating force in a crisis. She also talks to trees.
Maryam is the ambitious one who definitely in no way can be involved in covering up this murder. Her parents would kill her. Her magic is color. She also films makeup tutorials.
Above all, they have each other’s backs. From the first scene, they are, for the most part, ride-or-die for their girl. That loyalty is what I like most about these characters. They take the whole “best friends will bring their own shovels” thing to a whole new level, except, with bone dusting and other markedly more magical tactics. Their love for each other is what really sold this book for me.
The magic system in the book doesn’t make a lot of sense, but to be fair, the girls are learning the how and why themselves, so it fits the brand. It’s also a reflection of their own thoughts and feelings, being messy, confusing, and clearly, rather powerful.
The (romantic) relationship between Alex and Roya is very much of the slow-burn variety, and I would have loved to see more, but this just wasn’t that book. Nonetheless, I love that they were complicated and that they could be angry at one another while still having their feelings shine through. Their sweetness made my heart hurt.
Gailey’s straightforward writing style entrenches the reader in Alex’s perspective, meandering through her thought process in a way that is at once realistic and informative if a bit info dump-esque in the very early chapters. “Anyway.” and such transitions are used in a way that adds to this casual effect. The humor is very straightforward as well, mostly being angsty sarcasm, besides some of the more situational bits, but in times like these books that don’t need to be worked at to be understood are very appreciated by my tired brain.
When We Were Magic is fun, funny, and, well, magical from beginning to end, with a diverse cast of characters that are hard not to love, especially with how clear their love and loyalty to each other is.