Magic or Madness by Justine Larbalestier. ★★★
Magic or Madness was mediocre. It wasn’t terrible, but it was far from great either.
The best quality of the book is the magic system. Some people are born with the ability to use magic (it runs in families), but every time they use magic they shorten their life span, so most magic users die young – often around twenty. The catch? If you’re born with the ability to use magic and don’t, you’ll go mad.
It’s a wonderful conundrum that should have lead to a great book. Unfortunately, the heroine, Reason, doesn’t know magic is real and doesn’t find out about the predicament she’s in as someone born with the ability until pretty far into the book.
As a result, the idea gets little exploration. That likely changes in the latter books in the series, but Magic or Madness suffered from it.
Magic or Madness is about Reason Cansino, a girl who has spent her life wandering the Australian outback with her mother, Sarafina, hiding from her grandmother. Sarafina has always told Reason that her grandmother his dangerous – she’s a crazy, violent woman who believes that magic is real. When Sarafina suffers a mental breakdown, Reason is forced to move in with her grandmother, and she finds out that magic is real after all.
I should have liked Reason. She has admirable pluck and intelligence (I like how she’s so good with numbers), but she often came off as younger than her fifteen years. Possibly it was a combination of her upbringing and her complete lack of knowledge about her magical heritage, but she read as naive for most of the middle section of the book.
Another thing about Magic or Madness – it’s short. While it’s 304 pages, it’s a short 304 pages. I was able to start and finish it within a couple hours. While on one hand, I like being able to have a quick read, on the other I think the brevity characterized how some of the issues in the book weren’t deeply explored.
Overall, I probably won’t be reading any more of the series, but if I happen to run into the sequel at the library, I may pick it up.