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Magic or Madness (Magic or Madness Trilogy (Hardcover)) Hardcover – 17 Mar 2005

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Product details

  • Hardcover: 271 pages
  • Publisher: Razorbill; First Printing edition (17 Mar 2005)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1595140220
  • ISBN-13: 978-1595140227
  • Product Dimensions: 14.8 x 2.5 x 21.6 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (4 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 3,809,322 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful By TeensReadToo TOP 500 REVIEWER on 31 Dec 2006
Format: Paperback
Reason Cansino has always been taught to fear her grandmother, Esmeralda. Reason's mother, Sarafina, has taken them all over Australia, mostly to remote Aboriginal settlements. Reason has only been to a real school once, but Sarafina has taught her lots of things, mostly math and some science.

Reason has been happy with her life, but when Sarafina goes crazy--really crazy, as in trying to kill herself instead of her usual craziness consisting of things like making them walk in straight lines for days--all of that comes to an end. Reason is sent to live with Esmeralda in Sydney. She's expecting the dark, scary house of her mother's stories. The one where Sarafina's cat was murdered. The house where dark magic takes place--imaginary magic, of course, as Sarafina has always said that magic isn't real. It's too illogical.

What Reason finds, however, is a spacious, light house, not at all witchy. There are no animal sacrifices in the living room, no bubbling cauldrons in the kitchen. That can't undo the belief that years of Sarafina's stories have created, though. Reason is sure that something is going on underneath the surface, and she's got to run away and get out of Sydney as soon as possible. She's got to rescue Sarafina from the loony bin where she's been locked up.

Sydney's not all bad, though. Reason meets Esmeralda's neighbor, a boy about her age named Tom. She'll be sorry to leave him behind, but it looks like he's working with Esmeralda, and she's got to get away from the witch.

Reason's escape from Sydney doesn't exactly go as planned. Instead of escaping with her mother and all of her supplies, Reason finds herself on a winter street in New York City, barefoot and with nothing, after stepping through Esmeralda's back door.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful By Candy Gourlay VINE VOICE on 30 Sep 2008
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Justine Larbalestier is the wife of uber YA fantasy author Scott Westerfeld and I must confess I was worried when I started reading this that she would not match up to her husband's success in the genre.

I had nothing to fear. Justine Larbalestier writes beautifully and the world she imagines (a house in Sidney whose back door opens to New York City), its rules and its limitations, is fully formed and engaging. I fell in love with the characters and could not believe it when the book came to an end.
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Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
I cam to this book on the recommendation of some friends and am glad that I did. Larbalestier has put a lot of thought into how magic works in 'her' world, giving it a terrible twist - use it and you die young, don't use it and you go insane.

Reason's mother, Serafina, opted to pretend that magic didn't exist and now she's locked up in an asylum, leaving Reason to be looked after by her grandmother, Esmeralda, a woman who Reason's been told kills animals and babies and drinks their blood. Reason, with her strong gift for maths and science, does not doubt the things that Serafina has told her and plots to escape her grandmother's house. But when she opens the back door, she finds herself suddenly transported from summery Sydney to wintery New York and realises that magic is real afterall.

Like I said, the worldbuilding is credible and Larbalestier takes her time to introduce the reader to the concept, intertwining Reason's first person narrative with the third person narratives of Tom and J-T (other young magic users) to good effect. There's a credible 'baddie' in the form of Jason Blake, a villainous magician who steals other people's magic to prolong his own life and Esmeralda is suitably ambiguous.

The reason I haven't given this book 5 stars is because whilst the writing is excellent, when you come to the end you realise that there isn't actually a whole lot of plot - mostly it is just world building. Therefore, by the time you get to the end, when Reason does accept that she's magic and realises what the consequences are, you don't necessarily feel that a great deal has happened.
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By L on 9 Oct 2010
Format: Paperback
Magic or Madness opens with fifteen year old Reason Cansino bound for the home of her estranged grandmother. It's one of the most perfect opening chapters you could wish for, telling the reader everything they need to know about who this girl is and what her life has been until now. Raised by her mother Sarafina, their life has been defined by running away: escaping one place and seeking out the next, leaving everything behind them. They've been running from her grandmother, Esmerelda. The witch. Only now Sarafina is gone, and Reason is being sent to live with her. She's already planning her escape, of course. As the story unfolds, we accompany Reason to the witch's house, unsure what lies in store for her - and us - there. And then Reason opens a door. On the other side, New York. And winter. And magic.

Set in both Sydney, Australia and New York City, Magic or Madness is a book with two distinct accents. Chapters set in Sydney use Aussie slang and spellings; the New York based ones, on the other hand, are all-American. Not only does this add a little extra authenticity to the narrative voice - which itself switches between Reason's candid first person and a third-person perspective when she's not around - but Larbalestier has also thought to include a pretty cute glossary of cultural terms that readers might not be familiar with. Neither variation is marginalised, and they flow into each other seamlessly. Together with the novel's multi-racial, stereotype-defying cast of main players, Magic or Madness gives us the sense that this story is an inclusive one: there's somebody for every reader to instantly relate to.

Probably the most remarkable thing about Magic or Madness is Justine Larbalestier's portrayal of magic itself.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on (beta) 33 reviews
9 of 9 people found the following review helpful
excellent, fast paced, magical adventure 22 Dec 2005
By terryannlibrarian - Published on
Format: Hardcover
Despite the fact that I was utterly disappointed to find out that this book is the first in a trilogy (I didn't find out till the cliffhanger ending and I like to read series books all together), I really enjoyed this book.

The chapters alternate perspectives between Reason, Tom (the evil/not evil grandmother's apprentice) and Jay-Tee (Reason's friend/enemy in NY City). The 3 teens often contradict each other which makes the different points of view all the more real.

Reason has spent her whole life hiding from her grandmother who is a witch. R's mother doesn't believe in magic and raises her believe only in the rational. When her mother goes insane, R is taken by the authorities and placed with her grandmother. R quickly finds out that magic is real when she steps through a door in her grandmother's house and finds herself in New York City. The book is fast paced and mysterious. It is difficult to figure out who is on Reason's side and who is plotting against her, even to the end of the book. The teen characters are authentic and well developed and while the adult characters are a little more shallow (fairly typical in teen books) there is the promise that they will become more developed in the coming books.
7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
Captivating 2 May 2005
By Liz who Reads - Published on
Format: Hardcover
THis is a gorgeous book. I'm not a young adult (just a regular old one, I fear) but this book made me wish I could have found this story when I was a 13 year-old girl -- I would have loved it. The blending of magic with real-world adolescent issues creates a memorable, delicious story -- easy to read (impossible not to, in fact) in one sitting. I can't wait for the sequel. In the meanwhile, I'm buying it for every young girl I know...
16 of 20 people found the following review helpful
strong 3--strengths outweigh few minor flaws, one major one 5 May 2005
By B. Capossere - Published on
Format: Hardcover
Magic or Madness does a nice job of plunking us down in mid-story, giving us a sense of early momentum that seldom pauses the rest of the way. Reason Cansino has been kept on the move in the Australian bush for most of her 15 years, in order, her mother says, to keep her safe from Esmeralda, Reason's dangerous grandmother. Serafina, Reason's mother, has filled Reason's mind with stories of Serafina being held captive as a young child in Esmeralda's cellar, of Esmeralda's animal sacrifices and dark rites all in the name magic, which she impresses upon Reason, doesn't exist. But now, having seemingly gone from simply strange to truly crazy, Serafina is Institutionalized in a Sydney mental hospital and can no longer protect Reason, who as the book opens is being taken to Esmeralda's house by the "witch" herself.
This sense of coming into the story mid-stream does a good job of adding a sense of history to the ensuing story, as well as a feeling of suspenseful urgency. Her mother's tales weren't completely true, Reason finds out early enough (the house for instance is bright and airy rather than gothically dark), but neither are they completely false (something is buried in the corner of the cellar).
In an attempt to run away, Reason walks through a door and somehow ends up in New York City. Magic, therefore, does exist, and its existence, its effects on her family and herself, its temptations and dangers, all play a major role from then on. Along the way to trying to learn some answers, Reason meets several youths of her same age who may or may not practice magic and may or may not be her allies. The adults she comes into contact with do practice magic, but once again, their motivations and trustworthiness are unclear.
The strengths of the book are many. It is tautly constructed with a quick, urgent pace. Shifts in narration among the youthful characters and a third-person narrator add suspense and lend some variety to the voices telling the story. The young people are quickly but sharply characterized and mostly have a sense of authenticity in their actions and language. The magic is low-level through most of the story, acting mostly as an underlying sense of menace and mystery until the very end, where it makes a more pronounced entrance. The main storyline is pretty straightforward, but the unclear agendas of the adults, and their use of the children to achieve those agendas, makes for a nice complexity. Not only is one unsure as to who exactly is "good" and "evil", by the end those terms have been shown to be gross over-simplifications. Life is seldom so simple and neither is what is going on this book (the first of a projected trilogy).
Most of the flaws are relatively minor. The adult characters are so far more shallowly depicted, but Esmeralda deepens toward the end and one assumes/hopes that will continue in book two. Some of the plot events are a bit contrived or make use of hard-to-believe coincidence. But these are easily overlooked.
The largest and most annoying flaw, and the one that is consistently noticeable throughout (thus dropping the book from a four to a three) is the inconsistency with regard to just how sophisticated Reason is. At times she speaks like a never-been-out-of-the-bush-knows-almost-nothing fifteen-year-old; at other times she displays a jarringly normal response to events. For instance, she might compare something to an Escher painting on one page and then two pages later not recognize snow for what it is for several long minutes. There are many examples of this and they unfortunately did mar the reading experience pretty regularly for me, though some might find it less annoying, and maybe especially the younger audience the book is aimed at.
Overall, the series (and one will have to continue the series for the story to hold together) is off to a good start and despite its flaws, I recommend it fairly strongly.
5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
Modern Fantasy 21 Jun 2006
By AndrewN - Published on
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
The first of three books, this story follows a young girl discovering her family's secret, the need for true friends and the awareness that adults are not perfect. The plot takes place in present day Australia and New York. The differences between the cultures makes for an enjoyable read.

A perfect book for young teens, of both sexes, and adults. Justine Larbalestier is a wonderful talented new author. You won't be disappointed starting this series.
4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
A Different and Intriguing View of Magic 18 April 2006
By Jennifer Robinson - Published on
Format: Paperback
Magic or Madness is the first book in a new trilogy by this Australian author. The book starts with Reason Cansino, a 15-year-old girl on her way to live with her hated and feared grandmother, Esmerelda. Reason and her mother, Sarafina, have spent years on the run, hiding in the Australian outback, moving from small town to small town, so that Esmerelda won't get her hands on Reason. However, Sarafina has had a mental breakdown. While she is in the hospital, Reason is forced to live with Esmerelda.

This is a difficult adjustment for Reason because Sarafina has spent the past 15 years telling her terrible things about Esmerelda, who is supposedly a witch who eats insects, and performs hideous animal sacrifices. Reason finds herself conflicted because Esmerelda appears normal, and turns out to have a beautiful home, and to act as a mentor and teacher for Tom, the teenager next door. Meanwhile Sarafina, in the mental hospital, is clearly NOT normal. Reason doesn't know what to believe.

Reason's mother has assured her that there is no such thing as magic. Sarafina has raised Reason to believe in the strength of numbers and logic and reason. And yet, Reason starts to notice strange things about herself, her grandmother, and about her family history.

Eventually, Reason finds conclusive proof of the existence of magic, as she steps through a doorway and finds herself in New York City. There she finds a friend, Jay-Tee, who wants to help Reason. Or does she? Nothing is as it seems, and Reason, Jay-Tee, and Tom must each struggle to figure out who to trust, and what to do.

The viewpoint in this book shifts between Reason, Tom, and Jay-Tee, in alternating chapters. Their voices are easy to tell apart because Reason and Tom use various Australian colloquialisms, while Jay-Tee speaks like a teen from the U.S. I think that the Australian vs. English terminology issue does add interest to the book (the kids repeatedly argue over which is the right word for something), but I found it a bit distracting, too. I kept having to look at the glossary in the back of the book to see what something was. I think that some kids will like this ability to learn Australian lingo, while others will find it an annoying distraction from the plot.

I enjoyed Reason's viewpoint the most of the three. Reason's magical ability is centered around numbers and patterns, and she centers herself by counting up Fibonacci numbers in her head (a kindred spirit for Gregory K. and his poetic Fibs). She is so gifted with numbers that she has merely to scan a crowded room to know how many people are there. I like the idea of a magic that comprehends and uses numbers and rational patterns. The magic in this book is also subject to real laws of supply and demand and energy usage, which I find refreshing.

Overall, I thought that it was an entertaining read, and an unusual look at magic. The characterization is strong. Although I am generally getting burned out on trilogies, I do look forward to reading the other two books in this series. I want to know what happens next to Reason, Tom, and Jay-Tee.

Magic or Madness was recently nominated for the New South Wales Premier's Literary Awards Ethel Turner Prize.

This review was originally published on my blog, Jen Robinson's Book Page, on April 18th, 2006.
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