Magic or Madness - by Justine Larbalestier

"reality mixed with fantasy, it keeps you on the edge of your seat"


     When I first picked up this book I thought that it would be a good book, (considering the fact that Justine Larbalestier was one of my favorite authors in the beginning) but one I would have to fight to keep interested in. This book though, was nothing like that. It sparked my interest right away and I couldn’t put it down. Once I realized it was one in a trilogy I couldn’t be happier; it means the great books will continue.

        Magic or Madness is the basis of the story. Throughout the whole book you seem to wonder if it is really magic, or madness. When you read this you become attracted to the naïve character, Reason, as you watch her constant struggle to find out who her friends and foes are, and who she is. Other questions are: Why did her mother become insane and why she is stuck with the evil witch Esmeralda? Will Jay-Tee help her or hurt her? Is Tom on Reason’s side or on Esmeralda’s?  You will return to the question, again and again of whether the magic is just madness throughout the many challenges Reason experiences. “Lying there, I was thinking something else that made my head hurt. Something I’d been trying not to think since I’d stepped through the door. I wasn’t mad after all, and I hadn’t lost my memory.”

        Justine Larbalestier was born in Sydney and raised in many different areas of Australia, making the places Reason had visited reality. Her portrayal of Reason’s father as Aboriginal reflects her own life in two Aboriginal settlements (native Australians). This also made me connect closer to the book; it made it believable, along with the Australian dialect such as “arse, bloke, loo, dag, dunny, footie,” and my favorite ”“bugger,” adding humor in serious situations. This authenticity gives Magic or Madness an edge that most books don’t have.

        This book will keep you on the edge of your seat until you have finished it. Its twists and turns keep you eager to read more. I highly recommend this easy to read book; it’s funny, intense, has enough reality mixed with the fantasy, and has great characters. You can’t find a better book. I finished this book quickly and the ending was great, and it makes you want to read the next book in the series. I have been bugging my mom ever since to go pick up the next book. Read Magic or Madness and enjoy the adventures and challenges that Reason Cansino experiences.

"a fantastic read with an open ending leading you into the rest of the trilogy"


     Using escape tactics for runaways in the first paragraph, Justine Larbalestier catches the reader’s attention by putting you into the main character’s position. With a brief background of the main character, Reason Cansino, Larbalestier plunges right into the story of Reason’s mysterious life in Australia. Reason’s mother Sarafina named her daughter “Reason” because there is always reason in the world. Sarafina has convinced Reason that everything in the world can be explained with science and mathematics. She also wants to make Reason believe that her grandmother, Esmerelda, is just evil, and doesn’t have the magic powers she claims to have. Then, Esmerelda captures Reason, and Sarafina is put into a mental institution. This is when Reason meets her new friends and she faces obstacles beyond her wildest dreams.

       Points of views change throughout the book, making all of the characters feel more real. In spite of the wonderful writing style, Larbalestier does not clarify very well who is talking at the beginning of each chapter. Readers must get a good sense of each character’s personality to easily distinguish who is talking when there is a view change. This is not too hard, as there aren’t many main characters and they are all very interesting. It is also interesting to read the differences in Australian and U.S. styles as Larbalestier switches between both types of characters. The development of characters is well balanced between the protagonist, the friends, the antagonist, and potential antagonists. There is a mystery to who the good guy is and who the bad guy is, leaving room for the reader to guess and look forward to the ending. 

       Mainly, there are no small events in Magic or Madness. Almost every little detail has a meaning or plays a role in the big picture of the story. It is a fast-paced book that keeps the story going with a basic storyline that everyone wants resolved. The ending is wrapped up nicely, but as it is a trilogy, it has an open end to the book to keep the story going. All in all, it is a fantastic read if what you are looking for is excitement and adventure of the imagination.

    - Liz H.