The Magpie Society: One for Sorrow by Zoe Sugg and Amy McCulloch

*Thank you Penguin Random House for the gifted review copy. Apologies in advance for the slightly cheeky review*

Zoe Sugg, aka UK blogger Zoella, aka one of the best examples of hitting the Youtube goldmine, graces the shelves of bookstores around the world with her latest addition to the already swamped teen murder-mystery genre, The Magpie Society (book 1, of course). The story, set in a dreary English boarding school, follows the perspectives of Audrey, the new American student fumbling her way through British cultural quirks and Ivy, the generic straight A student, secretly struggling to keep up appearances. Both of these thrillingly original character arches are set against the backdrop of the death of fellow student Lola, the popular and projected new Head Girl of Illumen Hall, the previous Summer. Add in the classic mean girl cliques, some scandalous whispered rumours and a student determined to uncover the truth and hey presto – you’ve got yourself the most generic plotline in the teen reads genre. But hey, at least Zoe credited her ghost writer this time!

The Magpie Society: One for Sorrow by Zoe Sugg and Amy McCulloch
Publication Date: October 29th 2020
Publisher: Penguin Random House
Format: Paperback (Gifted Review Copy)
Buy the book: Exclusive Books|Takealot|*

The brand-new fiction book from Zoe Sugg (aka Zoella)! Co-written with the acclaimed writer Amy McCulloch Seven for a secret, never to be told . . . Illumen Hall is a boarding school of tradition and achievement. But tragedy strikes when the body of a girl, a student, is discovered – on her back is an elaborate tattoo of a magpie. For new student Audrey, it is just another unsettling thing about her new surroundings. And for her roommate Ivy, well, she’s just annoyed she has to share with the new girl from America. As an unlikely friendship develops, the two are drawn deeper into the mystery of this strange and terrible murder. They will discover that something dangerous is at the heart of their school. Welcome to The Magpie Society. Told from two alternating view-points, this is the first book in a modern gothic thriller series that will have you gripped like no other book this year. Get ready for your new YA obsession . . .

I reckon I discovered Zoe, the vlogging Queen at the perfect time. It was just before the Youtube world hit the pits so about 8 years ago – my recommended list was flooded with charismatically charming, fresh faced young Brits who were sharing their everyday life with the internet. It was all, admittedly, very entertaining to watch; if only for the sole purpose of a little escapism. Influencer marketing hadn’t truly been uncovered and Zoe was just one of many people who was creating content for the pure joy of creating content. Fast forward to present day and most of these “OG Youtubers” have either become marketing sellouts with their own brand of practically anything (just waiting on the branded loo paper next) or they’ve done the rational thing and just disappeared. I think my main issue with Zoe (sorry to use her as an example but there a dime a dozen just like her), is that she’s become a bit of a corporate sell out and, in the process, lost her relatability and authenticity that made her likeable in the first place. In all honesty, without her current level of fame she would never have seen the light of day as an author.

As you have probably guessed, I think the writing in this book is shockingly unimaginative. The story addresses some very heavy topics such as suicide, bullying and depression but the amateurish writing style means it sits poorly next to other teen marketed novels that cover similar topics. It’s a confusing one because, on the one hand if they cut these dark angles to the story, it would be an appropriate pre-teen mystery but, with that being said, there would be almost no plot at all and the writers would have to figure out a different backdrop to Lola’s death. The story alternates perspectives and there’s a clear distinction between the real writer’s work and then Zoe’s input. There are some obvious consistency issues throughout and the flow of dialogue was annoying at times (think a poorly produced teen Netflix drama type dialogue, matched with bad acting).

Criticism aside, did I enjoy reading The Magpie Society? Sure, it was entertaining enough once I put aside any and all expectations of even just a decent book. This is one you embark upon just to enjoy the ride, without thinking too much about it all. The story doesn’t get very far in terms of development – it purely a sets up for the inevitable series to follow. I’ll be interested in giving book 2 another chance, if only to see where Amy and Zoe take the story – I’ll still hold out for some improvement to the writing style but I wont hold my breath. I’ll only recommend this one for the die–hard Zoella fans though, so if you’re stuck for a gift this will probably go down really well for any Youtube fanatic aged 11–17, if they haven’t already got themselves a signed copy. Other than that, you’re safe giving this one a miss and trying a better Young Adult mystery like One of Us Is Lying or The Cousins by Karen M. McManus.

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