Tuesday, March 4, 2008

Justine Larbalestier

Magic or Madness
by Justine Larbalestier
Recommended Age: Age: 15+

Reason is her name. The Australian bush is her world. All her life she and her mother Sarafina have been on the run from her grandmother, Esmeralda. Reason has been taught to fear Esmeralda as an evil witch. Not that magic is real; like her mother, Reason believes in science and especially maths. But Esmeralda believes in magic, believes enough to slaughter beloved pets in dark rituals, eat babies, and draw the life-force out of the men she seduces. It's no wonder Sarafina and her daughter ran away.

But now Reason has to live in Esmeralda's house in Sydney. Why? Only because her mother went insane, tried to kill herself, and ended up in an asylum on medication that makes her a zombie.

Reason is understandably scared. But she is also curious. Why does the house, whose layout she knows by heart thanks to her mother's teaching, seem different in all other ways? It is spacious, clean, well-appointed, thoroughly modern. Tom, the friendly and talented boy next door, is completely devoted to Esmeralda, or Mere as he calls her. Where is the evidence of dark rituals? Where is the creepy atmosphere Sarafina led her to expect?

While Reason tries to sort out the lies from the truth, she holds herself aloof from Mere. She continues planning her great escape, back into the bush where she will never be found - with or without her troubled mother. But when she steals a key from a drawer in Mere's bedroom and uses it to unlock the back door, Reason steps out not into the summery, sunlit back garden, but into a strange city where day has become night and summer has become winter - and winter like none Reason has experienced before.

At first Reason is too preoccupied with the realization that magic is real, to figure out where she is. And Jay-Tee, the girl who steps up out of the snow and takes Reason home with her, seems to be in no hurry to tell her. By the time Reason realizes she is in New York City, halfway around the world from home, she is already in danger. An evil magic-user calling himself Jason Blake has been waiting for her, waiting to draw out of Reason the magic she never knew she possessed.

With the type of magic Reason has, there are only two choices: bottle the power up until it drives you insane (like Sarafina), or use it and die young. Each tiny magic shortens the user's life by so much; hardly anyone in Reason's family line has lived much past the age of 20. So by taking Reason's magic, Jason Blake is prolonging his own life...and shortening hers.

While Mere and Tom desperately search for Reason, she struggles to figure out what is what and whom she can trust. All she knows is that people she fears are closing in on her from both sides, pressing her into a final desperate run, a terrifying battle, and a decision that will affect more lives than her own.

This is the first book in a trilogy that continues with Magic Lessons. Founded on a fascinating concept of magic - one that is bound to stimulate interesting conflicts between its characters - it combines several points of view (complete with American and Australian dialects), two vastly different urban settings, a thrilling storyline and a touch of teen romance. And it leaves you wondering, with Reason, whether there might not be a solution to the dilemma between magic and madness.

Magic Lessons
by Justine Larbalestier
Recommended Age: Age: 15+

In this sequel to Magic or Madness, fifteen-year-old magic-user Reason Cansino begins to learn how to control the powers she only lately learned she has. And control them she must, for if she uses them too much, she will die very young...and if she uses them too little, she will go insane.

What Reason really wants to learn, with her mathematical mind, is the secret of how to escape this terrible dilemma. She wants to find out how to save herself, and her friends Tom and Jay-Tee, from having to choose between madness and an early death. She wants to find a cure for her mother's magic-related mental illness. And she wants to feel safe from older magic-users, like her grandmother Mere and the dastardly Jason Blake, who lengthen their lives at the expense of innocent youths.

Reason, Tom, and Jay-Tee have their first magic lesson together in a spooky house next door to Mere's palatial Sydney home. But Reason makes her most astounding discoveries on the other side of the magical door that leads directly from Mere's kitchen to a street in New York City, half a world away.

In the icy streets of New York Reason finds romance and danger. Jay-Tee's gorgeous brother makes her heart go pitter-patter... the fury of Jason Blake makes her knees turn to water... and the strange, ancient being that attacks her every time she comes near the door back to Sydney, fills her with disgust and terror. But one of them holds the key to using magic without losing years off her life. And if she can grasp that secret for herself, perhaps she can do something to stop Mere and Jay-Tee from dying... or from draining the life out of Tom in order to stay alive.

Cheers to Ms. Larbalestier - who seems equally at home in Sydney and New York - for creating a unique brand of magic and using it to bridge the gap between such distant, but fascinating, cities. Cheers again for sharing with us the confused feelings and thrilling destinies of Tom, Jay-Tee, and Reason. And hooray for the upcoming third book in the trilogy, titled Magic's Child.

No comments: