MAGIC LESSONS is the second book in Justine Larbalestier's trilogy, and it's just as wonderful and gripping as MAGIC OR MADNESS! In this book, there are just as many questions as in the first, as every answer Reason finds only leads to more questions. For everything that's resolved, there are five more things that I was anxious to find out as I read on! There is plenty of suspense in this book.
Reason, Tom, and Jay-Tee have all stepped through Esmeralda's magic door into Sydney, leaving behind Reason's evil grandfather, Jason Blake, as well as Jay-Tee's older brother, Danny, in New York. They're being taught magic by Esmeralda, even Reason and Jay-Tee, though they're still not sure they trust her the way Tom does. They've had some bad experiences with magic, but they know now that they have to use it, or else they'll go crazy, like their parents. However, every time they use magic, they lose a little time being alive. Magic is not the blessing it is in other books; in the world Justine Larbalestier has created, it's more of a curse.
The door between Sydney and New York is acting strangely. At first, they think it's because of Jason Blake, but it turns out to be something much more frightening and mysterious. They're not sure what it is, but Reason knows something about whatever it is that the rest of them don't: It's a Cansino. She and Esmeralda are related to it. One more thing: it's old. As in, centuries old. Reason isn't sure what to make of this information, but she doesn't trust Esmeralda, so she's not telling anyone.
Then she loses her chance to share it. She is sucked through the door into New York. Reason's not as lost as she was the first time; after escaping the scary, stinking old man-like creature standing in front of the door, she finds Jay-Tee's brother Danny, and stays with him. She can't go back to Sydney; the old man, the Cansino, is guarding the door. She could always buy a plane ticket home (or, rather, Danny could buy her one; money is nothing to him, and she has none), but there are a few things keeping her in New York. One, she wants to find out more about the man guarding the door, and maybe do something to get rid of him if Esmeralda figures out what he is. Two, there's Danny...
Sequels often don't live up to the high expectations set by the previous books, but MAGIC LESSONS sure does! It's just as great as MAGIC OR MADNESS. One thing that I like about these books is Justine Larbalestier's magic system; it's very original, and it seems more realistic that, if magic existed, it would have a price. That makes this much darker than a lot of books about kids who find out they have magical powers, and also adds some extra awesomeness to an already great book.
The number of questions being far more than the number of answers also adds something to this novel. Even though I usually think that a book is made less wonderful by a cliff-hanger ending, I don't think that's the case in these books. First of all, the main conflict of the book is resolved, but, as all answers do in Justine Larbalestier's books, those resolutions bring new questions to be answered in the following story. Nothing here has been what it has seemed to be so far, but everything also makes perfect sense. Add this to great writing, wonderful characters, and brilliant ideas, and you've got an amazing trilogy! I absolutely cannot wait for book number three.
Reviewed by: Jocelyn Pearce
Having really enjoyed Magic or Madness, I had high hopes for Magic Lessons and whilst the second in this trilogy has the same high standards of writing that characterised the first, it was nevertheless slightly disappointing. There were two reasons for this. Firstly, the focus is still on world-building, this time with the new element of Raul Cansino, an ancestor of Reason's who everyone had presumed dead but who has become something inhuman and is controlling access through Esmeralda's door with New York, pouring his own magic into the Cansino's and appearing to have chosen Reason for something. Whilst world-building was a strong element in the first book, there is nevertheless some repetition of what we already know as to how magic works and what it's consequences are without adding a whole lot that's new. It's also a little frustrating to see Reason so slow on the uptake at times, particularly with regard to what Raul can do.
Secondly, the fact that there's so much attention to worldbuilding means that once again, there's not a great deal of plot and I felt myself waiting for something to happen. In fact, it was something of a relief to see Jason Blake come back on the scene, someone who clearly knows something about Raul but who is back to his dastardly tricks of stealing magic, thereby making himself unreliable. Larbalestier does focus on the crush that Reason has on Jay-Tee's brother Danny and ironically, this was for me one of the weakest parts of the book because of what happens between them. Without wishing to give too much away, I could see the pregnancy storyline coming a mile off and couldn't understand why the 18 year old, sexually active Danny wouldn't have some contraception on him or wouldn't even think about the consequences the next day. It is possible that there is a magical reason for all this and I am hoping that this is something that will come out in the final book in the trilogy, but for it to work Larbalestier will need to come up for an explanation as to why magical 'dead zone' Danny would have succumbed.
There were elements that I liked - Labalestier pulls no punches with what is happening to Jay-Tee, who finds herself having used up too much of her magic and facing a very early death. I also liked the way she handled Tom's realisation that Esmeralda has lied to him and stole some of his magic - it's a nice set up that helps to reinforce Esmeralda's moral ambiguity. I'd have liked to see more of Jason Blake, particularly as he risks being a two-dimensional villain unless we get some kind of additional element to his character. I'm also in awe of the way in which Labalestier skillfully slips between Reason's strong first person voice, and a third person narrative for Jay-Tee and Tom, giving all of them their own viewpoint. It's a difficult thing to pull off, but she makes it very natural.