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