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Confessions of a Bibliophile

An aspiring writer and bookstore employee with an incredibly bad book-buying habit... I'll read just about anything (so long as it will appeal to my interests in some way), but my main loves are YA and sci-fi/fantasy. I also like quirky history and science books and will book nerd. A lot. Currently in the process of weeding out my personal library. Find me on Twitter @princess_starr or check out my YA book, Snowfall, on Smashwords: https://www.smashwords.com/books/view/240027

Magic or Madness (Magic or Madness Trilogy Series #1)

Magic or Madness - Justine Larbalestier 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?)