- Paperback: 271 pages
- Publisher: Razorbill; Reprint edition (16 Mar. 2006)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 1595140700
- ISBN-13: 978-1595140708
- Product Dimensions: 14 x 2.5 x 21 cm
- Average Customer Review: 4 customer reviews
- Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 1,995,767 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
Magic or Madness (Magic or Madness Trilogy (Paperback)) Paperback – 16 Mar 2006
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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. In addition, I thought that the ending was weak - far too open-ended, I suppose to keep Esmeralda's ambiguity going, although the effect is to make you feel that you're missing a chapter. I also think that there were a couple of instances where Larbalestier was clumsy in introducing her backstory, notably when we discover that Reason has used magic once before (albeit unknowingly) to deadly effect - it was a revelation that came out of nowhere and because there was no prior reference, I felt it was rather out of kilter with the rest of the book.
Still, it is well-written, dialogue is nicely handled and there's a fun culture clash between Australian English and US English. Kudos to the publisher for including a glossary of Australian slang, which was v. useful.
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.
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. Central to the tale's impact, it's not something I would wish to spoil for you, but I will say that in this series Justine Larbalestier has made the very notion of magic her own. It has logic; it keeps to its own rules and it makes sense. And from our first wondrous encounter with it to the dark revelations of the story's final chapters, it's utterly fascinating. Through Reason and her two new friends, American Jay-Tee and Australian Tom, we witness the very different ways that this brand of magic can be channelled. For Reason, magic is about numbers and patterns, and there's a undeniable beauty in the way she relates to them. For dancer Jay-Tee, it's more rooted in physicality, and for Tom - refreshingly enough - it's all about fashion design. For all them, it holds the same joy and the same terrible danger. The stakes are high.
Magic or Madness is a hugely imaginative novel. It's the kind of book I want to take apart, piece by piece, to find out what it's made of. It's heartbreaking and beautiful and impossibly clever. Like the darker fairytales of childhood, it's bleak and strangely comforting all at the same time. While the two subsequent books in the trilogy never quite captured my heart in the way Magic or Madness has, they're both worth a look - and I should probably warn you that if you read this one you will want to know what happens next. It's a keeper.
Most helpful customer reviews on Amazon.com
Believing her mother, distrusting her grandmother, Reason hides in Esmeralda's house. The girl refuses to eat Esmeralda's food, refuses to speak to her and shuts herself in a bedroom until her grandmother goes out. Then, she explores the house, planning to escape as soon as possible. She finds a key and uses it on the only locked door in the home, opening it and stepping through. Outside she is in New York city in the middle of winter. Magic IS real. And she is capable of wielding it.
But I won't spoil the story for you. It is a wonderful story, and Reason a delightful teenager, full of strengths and normal insecurities. I will tell you, however, that this novel doesn't flinch away from the issues of power and corruption, as many other young adult novels do. Instead it portrays the way the pursuit of power affects relationships. The novel's "good' characters are strong and honest, yet still flawed, and the "bad" characters are deceptively charming, just as they are in the real world. And much too close for Reason to protect herself without help.
I do think this is a novel that is worth reading more than once, and I also look forward to the two sequels. From their reviews, it's clear they don't disappoint, either.
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.