Magic or Madness

Magic or MadnessBy Justine Larbalestier [ LibrarythingAmazon]

Hi. So. Jess and I aren’t dead, we’ve just been exceptionally busy. But we have been reading! So here’s a review to prove it!

Reason Cansino has never been normal: she’s spent her entire life on the run with her mother, hiding from her grandmother. Reason’s grandmother believes magic is real—and that belief has turned her into an unstable criminal. But now Reason’s mum is in the hospital, and it’s up to her to escape from her grandmother, rescue her mum, and figure out what the real secret of the Cansino family is.

At least, that’s her goal… Until a fateful trip leads her to the revelation that not only is magic real, and her grandmother can indeed control it, but that she can, too. Now Reason has to figure out who’s been telling her the truth and who’s been lying—and she has to figure out how magic works, or else she’ll never be able to save her mother or herself.


Okay, first off, a word about the author: Justine Larbalestier is awesome. I was lucky enough to meet her and hear her read a short story a few months ago, and she was incredibly charming and delightful. I’ve since started reading her blog, which is also charming and delightful. I kind of adore her, because not only does she seem like an awesome person, but also in large part because her writing is just so good. So on with the review!

Magic or Madness is great. It’s some of the best, cleanest, most polished writing I’ve found since starting this blog. It’s also a compelling story with amazing characters, and it hits me at a number of levels this blog was created in large part to discuss. First, Reason is a fantastic, dynamic female character. As you may be able to guess from her name, she’s a logical, math-oriented person. She constantly assesses what’s going on around her, makes plans, and follows through, even when she’s emotional. I was absolutely struck by how well characterized she is; one of my favorite things about the book is that, when she’s confronted with magic in such a way that she can no longer deny it, Reason immediately begins to try and pin down the internal logic and rules magic must follow—because everything has logic and rules, it’s just a matter of finding patterns. So Reason is smart and active, and one of the best female protagonists I’ve read in awhile.

Next, the book also achieves what a lot fail on: the cast is racially diverse. Of the three teenage protagonists, two are non-white. Reason is biracial; her father is Australian Aboriginal and her mother is white. Jay-Tee (a new friend) and her family are Hispanic.

There are millions of details that also enhanced the book for me. One that really resonated for me was when the characters took a trip to uptown Manhattan—extremely uptown. The description of the area (and how there were no yellow cabs around, an anomaly in the city) was dead-on accurate—which I know, because they were in my neighborhood. It was presented just right, and that was enough to make me confident that the details throughout the book were all accurate as well as enriching.

And then there’s the way magic worked—and the book played out. Magic can make or break a fantasy book; too often, it’s used as a dues ex machina to get the hero out of trouble. From reading her blog, I learned that Justine (I call her by first name because I wish we were BFF) specifically created the magic in Reason’s world so that can’t happen. Instead, the magic itself is as much a curse as a blessing, and (as you might gather from Reason’s reaction to it) it follows rules as unbreakable as the laws of physics. It isn’t a short cut or a plot device; it’s a mystery, and one that’s potentially deadly if not solved.

So, needless to say, Magic or Madness gets five cupcakes. I will acknowledge I read it awhile ago, so I’ve forgotten some details; if it had flaws, I’ve forgotten hem. I’ve been trying to find the rest of the trilogy since I finished it (I did find book two, finally!) and yeah, will be reading them immediately, because the series is pretty much fantastic on every level.

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    3 Responses to “Magic or Madness”

    1. Jessica says:

      I need to borrow these books, just FYI. *grabby hands*

    2. Hannah says:

      I thought this book was okay. It just seemed like through half the book Reason was all tired and falling asleep. What I also had a problem with was in the chapters from Reasons point of view, she seemed smart and logical but from Jay-tee’s point of view she switched to somebody who came out to be not so bright. I also didn’t like how half of it was just them walking around Manhattan. And plus the Villain (I forgot his name.) didn’t seem that evil to me, he didn’t really do anything. Except drain magic from them but other then that NOTHING! And Tom sometimes creped me out. But it was still good enough for me to want to get the next books!

    3. Sarah Rose says:

      This book had much promise for a good read on the back cover, but did little to deliver. I thought it was a bit boring and had to fight to finish it. They didn’t really do anything. The kids in this book seem to only jump to conclusions and have no way to prove or disprove the moral standards of the villain or even their supposed rescuer. It’s simply a frustrating book that feels as if it was cut off abruptly because the author wasn’t quite sure about what to do with the plot line.

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