Magic or Madness (Magic or Madness, #1)

ISBN: 1595140700
ISBN 13: 9781595140708
By: Justine Larbalestier

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About this book

For fifteen years, Reason Cansino has lived a life on the run. Together with her mother, Sarafina, she has moved from one place to another in the Australian countryside, desperate not to be found by Reason's grandmother Esmeralda, a dangerous woman who believes in magic. But when Sarafina suffers a breakdown, Reason is forced to move in with her grandmother in Sydney. The moment Reason walks through Esmeralda's back door and finds herself on a New York City street, she's confronted by an unavoidable truth - magic is real.This thrilling novel will bring readers through revelation upon revelation, leading to Reason's ultimate discovery of the price she must pay if she uses her magic.

Reader's Thoughts


Reason is a 15 year old girl who’s moved from place to place in the Australian outback every few months, on the run from Reason’s grandmother Esmerelda. Sarafina, her mother, attempts suicide, is hospitalized and Reason goes to live with Esmerelda in Sydney. Reason loves math, does Fibonacci numbers to calm herself and has always been told what an evil witch Esmerelda is. In Sydney she makes her first friend in Tom the boy next door, who designs fabulous clothes. Walking out Esmerelda’s back door, Reason finds herself in New York’s East Side. There she meets Jay- Tee whose magic is running and dancing. “Magic is real.…It made my head hurt.Magic is real. I am in New York City and it is Wednesday when it should be Thursday, morning when it should be night, freezing when it should be boiling, and magic is real.I opened the door in Sydney in summer, steeped out to new York City in winter, the opposite season on the opposite side of the world. One moment and everything had changed.If magic was real, then Esmerelda really was a witch. Witch as in magic, not witch as in bitch.”(


You'd be better off not reading this review. Or the book jacket, for that matter. Close the window, step away from your computer, buy the book -- you'll like it, I promise -- and open it to the first page, and begin. Make sure you have a couple hours free, because you're not going to put it down till you're done. Now that you've either already read the book, or are still holding out for me to explain why you ought to, I'll begin. Reason Cansino is an Australian teenager who's been on the run with her mother, Sarafina, since she was born. They ran from Sarafina's mother, who was evil and crazy and believed in magic. Sarafina does not believe in magic, and has taught Reason all about numbers and science and logical explanations. But now Sarafina has gone crazy herself and is locked in a mental asylum in Sydney, and Reason is taken away by her grandmother: Esmeralda, the wicked witch.Reason knows all about Esmeralda -- how she made Sarafina's life hell by demanding that she believe in magic, how she sacrificed cats in bloody ritual spells, how she eats nothing but frogs and snails and brains. But Sarafina taught Reason well, so even though Esmeralda seems nice -- and no brains or dead cats are in evidence -- Reason knows not to speak to her or eat any of her food, and is ready to make her escape.Think you know where this is going? You're wrong. Sort of.Oh, you think it's going the other way? Wrong too. Maybe.The most obvious virtue of Magic or Madness is its simple, page-turning style. Like her husband, fantasy/sf/YA writer Scott Westerfeld, Justine Larbalestier writes books that stay in your hands like they were coated with Krazy Glue, until you've turned the very last page. Reason's unusual voice -- half scientist, half snarky Australian teenager -- is one of the best parts of the book, and though the other two narrators, who appear later, are interesting and likable, I'm always happy to see Reason's narrative return. Though Reason is my favorite, all the characters are distinct and intriguing: a teenage boy who designs clothing, the mysterious Esmeralda, the long shadow cast by the mostly offstage Sarafina, a vampiric sugar daddy, and a Chicana New Yorker who isn't quite as street-smart as she thinks she is. Which brings me to the next thing that's striking about the book, which are its settings.Magic or Madness takes place in Sydney and New York City, and both are drawn with such vivid detail that, to a reviewer who knows New York (as Reason does not) but not Sydney (as Reason does) that both cities become equally alien, equally disconcerting, and equally enticing. Larbalestier captures the culture shock that an unwary traveler can fall victim to when even countries where English is spoken can seem impossibly different from each other, and where even that English can sound like a foreign tongue. This is the first fantasy I've ever read that gets the effect of having a character transported to Elfland without ever leaving the fields that we know.This is the first book in a trilogy, and though there's some resolution, it ends on something of a cliffhanger. The second book is Magic Lessons


I enjoyed this better than the other teen sci-fi trilogy I've been reading (Westerfield's Uglies/Pretties/Specials). And it is related--apparently Westerfield was a mentor for this author.Anyway, good stuff. Reason has been raised in the Outback by her mother, constantly running from an "evil" grandmother. The duo gets caught and mom is hauled off to a psychiatric hospital. Now, Reason finds that her grandmother doesn't seem that scary or evil, but she can't go against what her mother taught her. And she also finds that a big huge something is missing from her knowledge about herself--that she's magic. And if she doesn't use the magic, she'll go insane like her mom.


In short, it was pretty good. The cover told me right away in plain words that this is the first in a trilogy, so I wasn't expecting resolution to every plot- and thought-line in the book.I recommend this book for the author's presentation of magic as a dangerous and painful thing, but a genetic gift that has madness as its only alternative. It's a gritty, more realistic presentation of magic than most YA books give (Fleishman's Fade being a horrific exception).The main character is named Reason. She loves math. Her mother raised her to fear and hate her grandmother, who is - according to the mom - an evil woman dabbling in the trappings of witch craft. Well, no, actually, she's a practicing mage. There's a difference, as we see as the book goes on.One of the main carriers of the plot is a door that opens from Sydney in the height of summer to New York during a snow storm. The characters that go through it suffer the equivalent of jet lag plus some disorientation about what day/time it is. Due to the combination of time and the character's name, and I found myself singing the Time song from The Phantom Tollbooth more than once.


Magic or MadnessReason Cansino and her mother Sarafina have been on the run in the Australia outback as long as Reason can remember. For fifteen years they have been running away from Reasons grandmother Esmeralda, this crazy woman that believes in magic. After her mother suffers a mental breakdown, Reason is sent to her grandmother in Sydney. Soon after arriving Reason finds herself in the streets of NYC, and she is forced to face the truth… her mother did lie.. Reason is magic! You will love this thrilling novel of a girl discovering the truth about her self, filled with fantasy and mystery.


I loved Justine Larbalestier's Liar, and I think in a way it spoiled me for this book, which is equally readable but a bit less intricate, and requiring less thought. The basic idea is encapsulated in the title, which makes it very annoying that the main character, Reason, spends at least half the book not getting it -- it doesn't come as a big revelation to the reader, if they can put one and one together to make two.My other problem with it was how prevalent the slang was. It's like Justine Larbalestier did some basic research on what teens are saying in Australia and NYC lately, and then crammed all of it in, in every other sentence. That'll quickly make it feel dated, and it feels so contrived. The fact that she needs a little glossary in the back to make things clear is kind of annoying.The characters themselves haven't gone anywhere much, but I have hope for them. I'm most interested in Esmeralda, really: I found the portrayal of her for the most part one-dimensional, except for at the end where she shone. I like the moral ambiguity, and I hope it's expanded upon. That could make it very interesting. I'm not so drawn by Jay-Tee, Reason and Tom.Magic or Madness is a pretty quick, fun read, but I don't like it nearly as much as I liked Liar. If I were to recommend Larbalestier's work to someone for the first time, I'd suggest they read Magic or Madness first, and figured out if they were interested in reading the rest, before going onto Liar, simply because Liar raised my expectations very high, and consequently reduced my enjoyment of this book.

Lauren Giova

I have to first start off with the point of view, or points of view i should say. Reason, the main character started the story off by narrating in first person. But as the story proceeded and introduced more characters the telling was twisted into third person with these new characters as the focal point. I found this more irritating than confusing and wished the story would have been told from one point of view preferably Reason's. I believe the maintaining of Reason's narration would have brought me into the book more so than it actually did. Moving on to a different topic, i would like to say that i also found the absurdness of Reason not knowing anything about the world (Jay-Tee too for that matter)was also irritating. I wish i could have wrung her neck and slapped her in the face when Reason refused to even speak with her Grandmother. I believe that if the author delved deeper into the way Reason was raised with her mother and the beliefs her mother installed in her, it would have made the hatred and caution more understandable. However, the story line was acceptable, nothing new or intriguing. I suppose it is a good starting point for those people who would like to start reading fantasy. But i wouldn't recommend this book to anyone who has a passion for High Fantasy.


It's different kind of magic. It's magic or madness. Hanya itu pilihanmu. Kau bisa memilih menerima bakat sihirmu dan menggunakannya, dan kemudian menerima konsekwensinya bahwa sihir memakanmu, memendekkan hidupmu, membuatmu mati sebelum menikmati hidupmu.... atau jangan gunakan sihirmu dan kehilangan akal sehatmu, gila dan terkurung di rumah sakit jiwa.Reason Cansino hidup dalam pelarian bersama ibunya Saraphina. Tapi sebenarnya ia sama sekali buta akan apa yang menyebabkan ibunya begitu ketakutan terhadap neneknya. Tapi saat akhirnya Saraphina benar-benar harus mendapatkan perawatan untuk kondisi mentalnya, Reason harus berhadapan dengan neneknya secara langsung dengan 'si tukang sihir'. Dan ia harus mengakui, bahwa sihir itu benar-benar ada....

Jennifer Wardrip

Reviewed by Jocelyn Pearce for TeensReadToo.comReason Cansino has always been taught to fear her grandmother, Esmeralda. Reason's mother, Sarafina, has taken them all over Australia, mostly to remote Aboriginal settlements. Reason has only been to a real school once, but Sarafina has taught her lots of things, mostly math and some science. Reason has been happy with her life, but when Sarafina goes crazy--really crazy, as in trying to kill herself instead of her usual craziness consisting of things like making them walk in straight lines for days--all of that comes to an end. Reason is sent to live with Esmeralda in Sydney. She's expecting the dark, scary house of her mother's stories. The one where Sarafina's cat was murdered. The house where dark magic takes place--imaginary magic, of course, as Sarafina has always said that magic isn't real. It's too illogical. What Reason finds, however, is a spacious, light house, not at all witchy. There are no animal sacrifices in the living room, no bubbling cauldrons in the kitchen. That can't undo the belief that years of Sarafina's stories have created, though. Reason is sure that something is going on underneath the surface, and she's got to run away and get out of Sydney as soon as possible. She's got to rescue Sarafina from the loony bin where she's been locked up. Sydney's not all bad, though. Reason meets Esmeralda's neighbor, a boy about her age named Tom. She'll be sorry to leave him behind, but it looks like he's working with Esmeralda, and she's got to get away from the witch. Reason's escape from Sydney doesn't exactly go as planned. Instead of escaping with her mother and all of her supplies, Reason finds herself on a winter street in New York City, barefoot and with nothing, after stepping through Esmeralda's back door. She doesn't know how she ended up there, but she's grateful to Jay-Tee, the teenage girl who rescued her from the freezing, alien streets. She thinks that Jay-Tee is just a friendly passerby...But could there be more to it than that? What is going on? How did Reason step through a door from Sydney to New York? That's just not possible. What secrets are being hidden from her? MAGIC OR MADNESS is a wonderful novel from Justine Larbalestier, who's married to one of my favorite authors of all time, Scott Westerfeld. It's a fascinating story, and the way it's told is a little unconventional: some chapters are told in a first person point of view, in Reason's voice, and others are told in a third person limited point of view, from inside either Jay-Tee's or Tom's mind. These three different points of view could be confusing, but Justine Larbalestier pulls it off wonderfully. The story itself is quite a page-turner. I read this book when it first came out, and reread it after getting my own copy in paperback, and I loved it both times. The characters are all wonderfully realistic and interesting. Each answer Reason finds only leads to more questions, keeping suspense throughout the story. The writing is fantastic, and I'm really looking forward to the third book in the trilogy, MAGIC'S CHILD, coming in 2007!


The one where Reason's mother goes mad, leaving Reason in the clutches of the grandmother she's been taught is a wicked witch. I enjoyed this, though like many YA books it was more of a snack than a full novel. (It only lasted me a day and a half! I had to make a special evening trip to the library so as not to face a bookless night!)I enjoyed spending time with Reason; unlike a lot of YA heroines, she's not whiny, nor are her problems trivial. She is exasperatingly unwilling to listen or ask questions, but she does have a better-than-average excuse (much better than, say, Harry Potter's). Tom and JayTee and Esmerelda and even poor Sarafina are all interesting as well. I got a little tired of listening to Tom go on and on about Reason's attractiveness; it was so overdone that I began to wonder whether the author felt that she needed to reassure people that even though Tom is interested in fashion, this doesn't mean he's gay, honest. (If that's the reason, it would have been a good idea not to have him use the word 'gorgeous' quite so much, unless it carries different connotations in Australia.)The climactic battle, which apparently happens entirely in the heads of the participants, is a bit of a letdown. Still, I've put Magic Lessons on my to-read list.(Locus poll: Magic Lessons #3 YA SFF novel of year)

Alisha Marie

I have alluded (or more like outright stated) in my previous reviews my love of anything to do with witches and magic. Even thinking about anything remotely to do with magic instantly brings me back to a much more innocent place in my life. Ever since this, okay I’ll say it, obsession with this type of world started, I’ve been searching for books about magic that would take me back to the wonderment I first felt by watching something about it (Charmed) and reading something about it (Harry Potter). Some of the books have been good, but most of them have been a tad on the mediocre side. Magic or Madness, unfortunately, falls under the latter.First of all, the main character, Reason was completely inconsistent. No 15 year old is that naïve. It just doesn’t happen. After a while, it did start to grate a little. In fact, every time Jay-Tee was getting annoyed at the same thing and wanting to punch Reason, I kept thinking that she should totally go for it. And as the story progressed, I was wishing for naïveté to come back because Reason was starting to turn into a damn idiot. But going back to the inconsistent part, she was taught to be on guard and a bit on the paranoid side. However, she just stands by and swallows all the fake crap that people tell her. It was like everyone else was saying “Dance, puppet, dance!” and Reason was all, “I shouldn’t…but OKAY!!!!” And then there are moments when she starts being wise (after like 24 hours which also makes it inconsistent) and then goes back to being an idiot. In fact, I found reason and Tom (her maybe love interest in the future) both idiots. Tom was all “I have to SAVE Reason”, yet all he does for most of the book is stop by a café or a restaurant to eat something. He was equally as useless as Reason.The only characters I even remotely liked were Jay-Tee and Esmeralda. I found Jay-Tee to be refreshing and I’ve always been drawn to “troubled” characters. Mostly because they tend to be less annoying than the actual goody-goodies in YA books (and this is coming from someone who was a complete goody-goody in high school). I was also extremely intrigued by Esmeralda. So much that I was hoping that she would narrate some chapters of the book (yes I know it’s a YA book so I should’ve known she wouldn’t). Again, it could be my love of “troubled” characters shining through. The magic in the Magic or Madness was also intriguing. It’s too bad that it was only lightly touched upon in this book.So, Magic or Madness was a bit of a bust for me. I just didn’t find Reason’s portrayal realistic. Neither was Tom, come to think of it. Will I read the second book? Probably. But only because of that interesting storyline involving Esmeralda that I think may come up. But it sure as hell won’t be anytime soon.


Not bad. Not great either, but a very interesting concept. Magic exists, but it comes with a hefty price. One you can't avoid. Either you use your magic but you die early, or you ignore your magic and go insane. It's told from the point of view of several characters across the chapters, but the author does a good job keeping you abreast of who's talking without making it forced.It splits the story between Sydney, Australia and NY, NY, with characters from both locations. So the English is either American or Australian depending upon who's talking. She includes a glossary for the Aussie words you might not know. Not bad for an afternoon read, but not one I'd look to buy. I could walk away mid-story and not feel particularly compelled to find out the rest. I also don't feel certain who the "bad guy" is. One minute you're for someone, and the next they're a horrible person, and the author can't quite make up her mind which way she wants it. But it doesn't go so far as a truly complex character with strengths and flaws.I've got the whole trilogy since it was there, we'll see if things improve as we go along.


I'm not sure how I came across this book, but I'm glad I checked it out from the library & didn't buy it. It was really just ok for me (that sounded like Randy from American idol - dawg). Anyways, I wouldn't recommend it. I don't even think I will bother reading the other 2 books in the trilogy.


Sampulnya serem. Tapi suka warna biru-birunya ituuuu… Ahahahaha…Anyway, buku ini bercerita tentang Reason, atau yang biasa dipanggil Ree. Seorang gadis 15 tahun yang selama ini hidup berpindah-pindah bersama Sarafina, ibunya. Ree punya kemampuan sangat khusus di bidang Matematika. Dia menenangkan diri dengan menghafalkan deret Fibonacci, dan mampu langsung mengetahui jumlah dari segala sesuatu yang dia lihat. Selama hidup bersama ibunya, Ree dipaksa untuk percaya bahwa Esmeralda, neneknya sendiri, adalah tukang sihir yang jahat. Sampai akhirnya Ree terpaksa harus tinggal bersama neneknya, karena Sarafina akhirnya dimasukkan ke rumah sakit jiwa. Ree, yang sudah terlanjur percaya bahwa neneknya jahat, berupaya mencari jalan untuk melarikan diri. Tapi dia justru menemukan pintu ajaib yang membawa dia pergi dari rumah neneknya di Sydney ke New York City. Di NYC ini dia bertemu dengan Jay-Tee. Dan dia pelan-pelan mulai menghadapi kenyataan, bahwa sihir itu benar-benar ada, dan dia adalah bagian dari sihir.Saya memang selalu suka dengan buku yang bernuansa magis dan fantasi. Dan selalu menyenangkan melihat bagaimana pengarang yang berbeda menggambarkan sihir dengan cara yang berbeda pula. Dan sihir yang ada di buku ini berbeda. Dalam buku ini, sihir terkesan misterius, fascinating, yet dangerous. And maybe that’s why Sarafina was freaked out about it. Alurnya mengalir agak sedikit lambat sih kalau menurut saya, karena setiap lapisan misteri dari Sarafina dan Esmeralda dibuka perlahan. Dan sihir disini kesannya personal sekali, sangat tergantung pada individu yang memiliki sihir itu. Tidak banyak tokoh yang muncul di buku ini, tapi justru karena itu, setiap tokoh tampil dengan peranan dan porsi yang pas. Kadang antara kasian dan sebel sama Ree, yang terlalu percaya pada ibunya dan tidak mau mempercayai neneknya.But still, the thing that I find most interesting about this book is how the magic works. Kok kesannya misterius banget. And I like how the relationship between the characters grew some chemistry attachment between them throughout the story.Would like to read the next one in this trilogy. 3.5 out of 5.

Laura Martinelli

So, I hadn’t heard much about the Magic Lessons trilogy until after I had initially read Liar—up until then, my only experience with Justine Larbalestier’s work was reading How to Ditch Your Fairy and giving up partway through because while that book had a cool idea, the concept was clearly not that all thought out. And I think I can say the same of Magic or Madness. There’s cool ideas, there’s definitely a strong story set up here, it’s just that Larbalestier spends so much time on the set up that the majority of the book chugs along with not much happening and then oh hey! Climatic battle and we’re done. (Basically, it suffers from Trilogy Syndrome; I would really like to see this series in an omnibus format and see how it compares to reading the standalone volumes.)Because I do like what’s given here. I like magic systems that utilize science and math to explain how the universe works (the old-adage “Magic is just sufficiently advanced science”), I liked the characters involved, and I like that not only does magic take a toll on a user’s life in this series, but at such a staggering cost. But the problem is that it takes such a long time for anything to happen. Reason spends roughly a hundred pages trying to figure out whether or not her grandmother is trying to trick her, to seduce her into the world of magic, then BAM! She’s in New York….and spends the rest of the book being dragged around by Jay-Tee while people half-explain things to her. And I get that this book is setting things up for a larger trilogy, but I’m just not feeling it.It’s not that the book overall is bad. I like a lot what Larbalestier does here, especially with handling three different character POVs. It also helps that all three characters are pretty strong. I liked Reason’s natural curiosity and affinity for Fibonacci numbers (and foodie tendencies), but you could also tell how innocent she was, not only from Jay-Tee’s POV, but from Reason’s unsureness about herself. I loved Jay-Tee, not just because she felt like that she’s been through the most, but you could really see how she would be attracted to using magic. And I loved that she recharges herself through dance; the club scene where Reason watches her dance is a fantastic sequence. Tom is probably the weakest of the three, seeing as he probably knows the most of what’s going on, but I still liked that he’s a distinctive character in his own right. (I also love that he really wants to be a fashion designer.) And what really works for me is a lot of these character details don’t come from the personal POVs, but when the others are observing the character in question. Sure, it’s frustrating for Jay-Tee to take care of Reason, but we get to see how really sheltered Reason was due to being on the run with her mother. And I like these three characters not only helping Reason discovering her magic, but also as growing friends and just helping each other out.The problem is Esmeralda and Jason Blake. I did like Esmeralda, but we never get to see enough of her that’s not from Reason’s POV. (Tom does interact with Esmeralda, but we never get enough information on their relationship aside from mentor/student and that she “helped out” Tom’s family when his mother was admitted to a psychiatric hospital.) The problem is that we never get the conflict explained beyond, “Oh, well, we just have different methodology for using and gaining someone else’s magic.” (I do kind of like the fact that Esmeralda acknowledges that her ‘showdown’ with Blake was actually really low-level, mainly because they couldn’t expend a lot of magic.) We know that Blake’s bad news, but we don’t get an actual reason why aside from being a skeevy douche. I don’t get why this is so important that Reason shouldn’t be near him, aside from Reason has massive magical potential. (It’s also frustrating how casually it’s dropped that Reason accidentally killed a boy when she was little. The only reason I’m not more ragey about this plot point is that it’s explained in the Magic Lessons preview at the end of my copy). I wanted to get more into the mysteries right away—why do magic users only live so long? What’s with Reason’s power? Why did Esmeralda kill a cat, and why did it affect Reason’s mother like it did? (I do have to also say I really don’t like the whole reason that Sarafina tries to kill herself is because she doesn’t use her magic, and that’s implied of all strong magic users who stop using their magic. If I do get my hands on another volume, I hope that this gets explained better, because the reason here reads as really problematic.)Again, this is not to say that this is a bad book, nor a bad start to a series. But ultimately, Magic or Madness does suffer from the Trilogy Syndrome thanks to the massive amount of set-up that’s given in one book and resolved with a quick denouement and a “To Be Continued.” I do want to read the rest of the series, but as a stand-alone volume, I can see where people would be quickly turned off from reading the other two books. (I can haz omnibus?)

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