Saturday, May 12, 2007

Magic or Madness?

I think that my love of John Green has been well documented. So, when I saw on the Brotherhood 2.0 blog that John was part of a writing group, I was excited to see what other authors worked with John. And, I must say, I'm impressed. Look, there's Maureen Johnson! Ooooohhhhhh.... Scott Westerfeld. Wow! There's Justine Larbalestier!

Wait a minute? Who in the what now?

Yes, dear readers, I must confess that Justine Larbalestier did not ring any bells with me when I first heard her name. But since I love John Green, and really, really like Maureen Johnson and Scott Westerfeld, I was excited to check out her book, Magic or Madness?

It looked promising. Reason, after a life spent walk about in the Australian outback, has recently been sent to live with her Grandmother, Esmeralda. Reason's mother, Sarafina, used to tell Reason's horrible stories about Esmeralda, and the things she would do in service of her "magic". Esmeralda believes she is a witch, and although, according to Sarafina, magic isn't real, Esmeralda can make you believe it is. Reason has been on the run from Esmeralda her whole life, but, now that Sarafina has gone crazy, Reason must stay with her until Reason can figure out a way for her and Sarafina to escape back to the bush.

However, when Reason comes to Esmeralda's house, she is surprised to find it's nothing like what she expected. Its beautiful, light and airy and filled with wonderful food. Reason is still suspicous though, until one day she goes out the back door and finds herself not in Sydney, but in New York City. Then, she must come to terms with the fact that Esmeralda's magic is real, and that Reason has some of the same gifts.

I wish I could give this book an unqualified thumbs up. I did like the unusual setting. (Not that Sidney is unusual, but I've never read an urban fantasy set there.) I also liked that Larbalestier gives you hints about Reason's abilities and how they worked. What I didn't like was the way the story shifted from Reason's discovery of who and what she is to a way more random chase plot, with your standard dark creepy guy and shifty "friend". I guess the book went south for me right around the time that Reason steps through to NYC. It almost felt like another book had been grafted on to this one, and the operation wasn't a complete success.

This is the first book in a trilogy, so some of the questions that get asked here will probably be answered in future books, but I really felt like there was a lot of set up for almost no payoff here. It irritated me so much that I don't know if I'll get the next book in the trilogy or not.

As for the last member of John Green's writing group, Lauren McLaughlin, I can't find any books by her. But if she's the same Lauren McLaughlin who wrote this she might be one of my heroes, because that is one of the best bad movies ever. Which really has nothing to do with anything, but is worth mentioning.


Karen said...

I had the same reaction to Magic or Madness, which would be, meh. I haven't sought out the sequels, but I'm thinking maybe I should give her books a second chance and then . . . meh.

Amy said...

Hmmm...I really liked Magic or Madness as well as the rest of the trilogy. I was intrigued by the bad guy/chase thing. I also really liked her take on magic - that it's like an illness that either kills you young or makes you crazy. I definitely haven't seen magic dealt with that way before.

Bit o' trivia - Justine Larbalestier is married to Scott Westerfeld.

Merideth said...

Amy --

I too enjoyed Larbalestier's take on magic. That's why I got so annoyed when she abandoned it to go focus on Reason eating her way through NYC and the "creepy guy"

A Fistful of Sky by Nina Kiriki Hoffmann also features a girl with magic gifts that she must use, or go insane. If you enjoyed Magic or Madness you'd probably also like this.