Thursday, March 19, 2009

Review: Magic or Madness

After reading Justine Larbalestier's blog for the past couple of months, I finally got around to reading one of her books - Magic or Madness, her first novel and the first in a trilogy.

Fifteen-year-old Reason Cansino has lived all her life in the outback with her mother, Sarafina, on the run from her evil grandmother, Esmeralda. Esmeralda believes in magic and practices horrifying dark rituals. But when Sarafina suffers a mental breakdown, Reason is sent to the one place she fears most—Esmeralda’s house in Sydney.
Nothing about the house or Esmeralda is what Reason expected. For the first time she finds herself questioning her mother’s teachings. Then when she walks through Esmeralda’s back door in Sydney and finds herself on a New York City street, Reason is forced to face the truth. Magic is real. And Reason is magic.
This is an interesting book. Larbalestier as created a whole new world and sympathetic, compelling characters. Like many books that are the start of a series, much of the book is spent building up this world, especially its take on the rules of magic. Fortunately, I found this building process to be engaging. The plot is relatively spare but works - it is a good place to hang all the other story elements on. There are some darker themes (the madness of the title is real, sadly) that give weight to the story as well.

The book is written from three different points of view (Reason's, Tom's and Jay-Tee's; Tom is Esmeralda's apprentice and Jay-Tee is the girl who befriends Reason in NY). Somehow, though, none of the voices of these characters entirely clicked for me. I read through it very quickly, enjoying it but not entirely engaged. And, of course, I'm not a teen anymore, so younger readers may not feel the same way I did.

That said, I've already gotten the sequel, Magic Lessons, from the library and am looking forward to diving in - the pleasure here, for me, was definitely in seeing where this structure Larbalestier has set up will take us. YA fantasy fans should take a look at Magic or Madness.

Buy Magic or Madness on Amazon.

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