Sing Your Own Special Song: Aerie by Maria Dahvana Headley

Aerie picks up a year after Magonia. Aza Ray is alive, though hiding in the body of someone new, pretending to be someone else. She’s been to Magonia and back – she knows now who she is, and what she’s meant to be doing. But she’s run away from it. Maria Dahvana Headley’s follow up to Magonia is another wild ride into a fantastical alternate word in the sky, one full of adventure, intrigue, darkness and beauty.

(Minor spoilers follow and can’t be helped, since this is a direct sequel.)

Aza’s mother, Zal, had wanted terrible things from Aza and her betrothed Dai, songs that only they could sing together that would reign Zal’s wrath on the earth below. Aza managed to get away without any lasting damage to the earth, but she left behind a great deal of damage in Magonia. Zal wants Aza back so she can carry out her plan, and will go to any lengths not just to destroy the earth, but to go against what Magonia wants too. Zal is a violent, unstable exile, but an extremely ruthless adversary nonetheless. She may not be able to sing, she may not have a heartbird or a partner with whom to sing her violent, mad song, but she’s found ways to use earth technology, warp it and recreate it to use for her own purposes.

Meanwhile, down on earth, Aza’s much too human boyfriend Jason is trying to balance everything in his head – his love for this alien girl who may any second leave him & this planet for another life altogether, his justified paranoias about Aza being hunted by more than one person, and the deal he’s made with the special human forces who monitor all Magonian activity, and Aza in particular. SWAB have been watching Aza closely, and over the years, have sent bird-shaped drones to Magonia to monitor the sky world’s activity. These ‘birds’ aren’t quite SWAB’s any more – they’re something worse, something twisted and almost demonic, able to use Aza’s own song against her.

Everyone, it seems is after something or someone to lead them to complete control of the sky, and so of climate. Earth’s future is tightly tied up to Magonia’s, as Aza, Zal and SWAB all know. Can a balance be achieved? It’s evident that one world can’t survive without the other, but is Aza what’s needed to tie them together in a harmonious way? She’s not certain she is, but she’ll do what it takes to save her loved ones, as any hero would. She’s suddenly on the run not just on earth but in Magonia too, in search of the mysterious Flock, which may or may not hold the answers she needs.

Aza’s journey, from a misfit, unwell human to Magonian royalty, back to earth as someone trying to blend in but still yearning for more, and back to Magonia as the hunted and then the hunter is both thrilling and poignant. She isn’t just an alien being, she’s also a young woman, with all the complicated emotions of one, albeit carrying a heavier burden, what with the entire saving of these two worlds business. Her relationship with Jason takes up more page time in Aerie, with complications arising from Jason’s paranoias and eventual bad decisions (though ones made in fear of losing Aza). Jason, too, is a complex character, one who has to come to terms with his own limited understanding of the world – a tough thing to do, for someone with an incredible high IQ who can absorb as much information as he can. But Jason has his own set of troubles, his mental health isn’t great and it is incredibly sad to watch as he starts to unravel, ‘like a sweater’. Not just for him, but for the consequences this has on Aza’s journey, too. Their connection is real, but when placed against the bond Aza has with her Magonian heartbird, it fades. Because Aza’s journey isn’t with Jason, or with Dai, it is with Caru, the bird that is a part of her, and that helps her sing a song only she can. Together, they’re ‘singing the sound of [her] heartbeat and [her] breath, the sound of bright blue blood running through [her] Magonian veins, the sound of someone trying to be everything at once, trying to save everyone at once.”

Being a fan of Maria Dahvana Headley’s work is easy. There is great rhythm in her writing, great joy and verve in her narrative which runs riots over the pages of Aerie, just as it did over Magonia. Aza’s time on earth isn’t as arresting as her time in Magnolia – and how can it be? Headley’s world building of Magonia in Aerie is just as full of wild whoops of imagination and fantasy as it was in the first novel of the pair, but in Aerie there are darker, more frightening things to contend with too. This is still a novel about climate change and finding a harmonious balance with the natural world, but even so, it’s the gleeful use of language that stands out most, the freedom with with Headley writes of her made up world and it’s startling beauty:

“A whooshing surge of starlings, a murmuration, a cloud of them dancing in the air, their bodies swooping and twisting, folding the sky and singing with us, a note that summons a veil of wings, a black lace curtain of words and song. They fly around the ship, a soaring roar of glory, a million birds moving as one body.”

It’s glorious, really. Aerie is a joyous read, no doubt about it.

Aerie is available now from HarperCollins.

Mahvesh loves dystopian fiction & appropriately lives in Karachi, Pakistan. She writes about stories & interviews writers the Tor.com podcast Midnight in Karachi when not wasting much too much time on Twitter.

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