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Magic or Madness

(Magic or Madness #1)

3.52  ·  Rating details ·  4,109 ratings  ·  365 reviews
For fifteen years, Reason Cansino has lived a life on the run. Together with her mother, Sarafina, she has moved from one place to another in the Australian countryside, desperate not to be found by Reason's grandmother Esmeralda, a dangerous woman who believes in magic. But when Sarafina suffers a breakdown, Reason is forced to move in with her grandmother in Sydney. The ...more
Hardcover, 271 pages
Published March 17th 2005 by Razorbill
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Nina Yes, definitely!! There are a few foul words but nothing sexual (just a crush), nothing too violent, lots of action, mystery, and MAGIC!!
(And the dic…more
Yes, definitely!! There are a few foul words but nothing sexual (just a crush), nothing too violent, lots of action, mystery, and MAGIC!!
(And the dictionary of Australian terms the author uses is in the back, which is really helpful)(less)
Asher Yes, if not this book later ones in the series.

Community Reviews

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Average rating 3.52  · 
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 ·  4,109 ratings  ·  365 reviews

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Jul 06, 2007 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: People who don't like fantasy
I’ve never been into books about dragons and fairies and whatnot (I don’t even care for Lord of the Rings), but Larbalestier’s magic is so suffused with real, temporal, relational implications that it was easy to overlook the unicorn-adorned fantasy sticker on the book’s spine. Magic, in this world, does not rely on the wand-and-spell clichés that make Harry Potter so endearing, instead finding inspiration in psychic energy that flows from humans to the natural world and back again.

The heroine,
Jul 28, 2007 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: sff, locus_poll
The one where Reason's mother goes mad, leaving Reason in the clutches of the grandmother she's been taught is a wicked witch.

I enjoyed this, though like many YA books it was more of a snack than a full novel. (It only lasted me a day and a half! I had to make a special evening trip to the library so as not to face a bookless night!)

I enjoyed spending time with Reason; unlike a lot of YA heroines, she's not whiny, nor are her problems trivial. She is exasperatingly unwilling to listen or ask qu
Lauren Giova
Aug 30, 2007 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: People who want just a taste of the fantasy world.
I have to first start off with the point of view, or points of view i should say. Reason, the main character started the story off by narrating in first person. But as the story proceeded and introduced more characters the telling was twisted into third person with these new characters as the focal point. I found this more irritating than confusing and wished the story would have been told from one point of view preferably Reason's. I believe the maintaining of Reason's narration would have brou ...more
Jennifer Wardrip
Reviewed by Jocelyn Pearce for

Reason Cansino has always been taught to fear her grandmother, Esmeralda. Reason's mother, Sarafina, has taken them all over Australia, mostly to remote Aboriginal settlements. Reason has only been to a real school once, but Sarafina has taught her lots of things, mostly math and some science.

Reason has been happy with her life, but when Sarafina goes crazy--really crazy, as in trying to kill herself instead of her usual craziness consisting of thi
Alisha Marie
I have alluded (or more like outright stated) in my previous reviews my love of anything to do with witches and magic. Even thinking about anything remotely to do with magic instantly brings me back to a much more innocent place in my life. Ever since this, okay I’ll say it, obsession with this type of world started, I’ve been searching for books about magic that would take me back to the wonderment I first felt by watching something about it (Charmed) and reading something about it (Harry Potte ...more
Disappointing. Larbalestier's Liar -- when it impressed and when it didn't -- that book was interesting. It was thinking and messing with the boundaries of young adult fiction and just doing stuff.

This book is none of the above. It's just a couple hundred pages in which stuff happens. And I was frankly confused, because this is a universe where people -- women, mostly -- have a choice between the assumption of power and death on one hand, or eventual mental illness (unspecified) on the other. M
May 09, 2008 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
I'm not sure how I came across this book, but I'm glad I checked it out from the library & didn't buy it. It was really just ok for me (that sounded like Randy from American idol - dawg). Anyways, I wouldn't recommend it. I don't even think I will bother reading the other 2 books in the trilogy. ...more
Jan 11, 2011 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: young-adult
A mother that drags her child from village to village running from an evil witch may not seem quite sane. That would be because she's not. Her child, Reason, the main character, seems to think her mother is perfectly ok even though she tried to kill herself twice. It really leads you to think that the evil witch grandmother can't be that bad. So when Reason is shipped off to live with the crazy witch, we assume the grandmother will turn out normal. Not quite. There is the cat with it's throat cu ...more
Aug 25, 2009 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Not bad. Not great either, but a very interesting concept. Magic exists, but it comes with a hefty price. One you can't avoid. Either you use your magic but you die early, or you ignore your magic and go insane. It's told from the point of view of several characters across the chapters, but the author does a good job keeping you abreast of who's talking without making it forced.

It splits the story between Sydney, Australia and NY, NY, with characters from both locations. So the English is either
Anne Osterlund
Reason’s mother is mad.
Which means Reason has to move to Sidney, Australia. And move in with her grandmother.
The Witch.
Or rather, the woman who believes she’s a witch. And whom Reason and her mother have spent their entire lives fleeing.

But as soon as Reason arrives in Sidney, she makes plans to run away.
She just didn’t intend to run away through the back door. Using the hidden key.

And wind up in the middle of a snowstorm in New York.

Justine Larbalestier’s Magic or Madness is the first book in a
Sep 17, 2015 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Reason is sent to live with her feared grandmother after her mother is institutionalised, not knowing that the magic her mother was trying to escape is alive and well in both her grandmother and in Reason herself. There is a bit of intrigue (why did all of her female ancestors die so young) to keep the plot moving along, while Reason is planning her escape routes. She is quite a resourceful 15 year old. The relationship between magic and power is examined, as is the inner battle between using po ...more
Apr 14, 2009 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: ya-sci-fi
I really was not a fan of this book. I thought Larbalestier's writing was just strange. Some of her sentence structure just made no sense and it got on my nerves. Then she jumped from first person narrative to 3rd, which made no sense to me either. I didn't add anything to the book only made it look unedited and just strange. I've never read a book that jumped back and forth like this. It would have been better had she just stayed with one style the whole way through. Also, you never start a boo ...more
I loved Justine Larbalestier's Liar, and I think in a way it spoiled me for this book, which is equally readable but a bit less intricate, and requiring less thought. The basic idea is encapsulated in the title, which makes it very annoying that the main character, Reason, spends at least half the book not getting it -- it doesn't come as a big revelation to the reader, if they can put one and one together to make two.

My other problem with it was how prevalent the slang was. It's like Justine La
Sep 14, 2008 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
I'm just going to review all three of the books in this trilogy right here, because honestly, I don't think they should even be three separate books. One longer novel (with all the repetition edited out) would've been plenty for this concept, which was interesting, but that's about as far as I can go. The characters could be okay, but they're either too naive or annoying or just unrealistic, and they don't react to the novel's situation very believably AT ALL. Switching narrators also annoyed me ...more
Kelly RAley
I don't even know how to rate this. I felt like most of the book was a very long chapter one. You never really figure out what is going on until the last few chapters. Even then, more effort into world building needed to happen. Perhaps the author has it all in her head, but she does not share it with the reader. She also starts the book off in 1st person POV and then strangely switches to third, or really first of another character, but not an omniscient third. It needed some tighter editing. T ...more
Jul 29, 2017 rated it really liked it
I really enjoyed this book! I appreciated the Australian word translations in the back as the book is split between U.S. and Australian style writing. (All of which is laid out in the "Note to readers" page in front of chapter 1). The story ends very abruptly, which just made me want to immediately start the next book (which luckily I had). Can't wait to read the next one. ...more
Fifteen-year-old Reason, gifted in mathematics, struggles to work out where she fits in a family where magic and madness go hand in hand. The author's sparky and electric writing style brought the book alive for me. A quick and enjoyable read. ...more
Laura Martinelli
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 t ...more
Odds are, if you've read one of Justine Larbalestier's books before, it's either Team Human or Liar, and you're checking this out because you liked one or both of those. I haven't read Team Human yet, so I can't compare this book to that, but this couldn't be farther from Liar. And I hate to say it, but I don't mean that in a good way. Liar was a stunningly original, character-driven story with one of the best twists I've ever seen. This isn't a bad novel - particularly in the beginning - but ov ...more
Jun 11, 2012 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: young-adult-lit
Eh. This book was kind of difficult to get into. I probably won't read it again, but it wasn't HORRIBLE! I guess the hardest part for me was that there was very little character development; I never really connected with Reason, and her friendship with Tom, especially, seemed really rushed, which made it hard to understand why he was so desperate to find her in New York. There is also not much about Esmeralda, who I assume is a bigger character in the sequels, and I still don't understand how Re ...more
Dec 08, 2007 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Magic lovers who like a twist
This book is about Reason Cansino and she lives in Australia. Her mother and her have been traveling the outback trying to escape her crazy grandmother. Although her mother becomes insane and is sent to a care place. So Reason is put in the care of her grandmother. Reason's mother, Sarafina, has told her of all of the bad things about the house and her mother. She believes her to be an evil woman who does evil deeds. But as Reason lives there more often, she is becoming to realize that her grand ...more
Feb 22, 2011 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
This review is also posted on my blog, In The Good Books.

Magic Or Madness was Justine Larbalestier's first YA novel. I've read Liar by her before, and it's one of my favorites. I enjoyed reading Magic Or Madness, but I wasn't wowed by it like I was her other books.

I recognised the writing style - simple, emotive, and captivating. The plot was tense, the characters were all realistic and dynamic, and the ending was satisfying. The premise was unique, and I liked how the book explored a downside t
Reason Cansino has spent her whole life on the run in Australia (the author's home) with her mother Sarafina, escaping her grandmother Esmerelda; Reason's mum calls Esmerelda a witch and tells Reason awful stories of dark magic and sacrifice. When Sarafina has a mental breakdown, though, Reason has to go live with Esmerelda in Sydney; when she steps through Esmerelda's back door and finds herself in New York, Reason must face the truth behind Sarafina's stories and behind Reason herself: she has ...more
Feb 13, 2007 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I enjoyed this better than the other teen sci-fi trilogy I've been reading (Westerfield's Uglies/Pretties/Specials). And it is related--apparently Westerfield was a mentor for this author.

Anyway, good stuff. Reason has been raised in the Outback by her mother, constantly running from an "evil" grandmother. The duo gets caught and mom is hauled off to a psychiatric hospital. Now, Reason finds that her grandmother doesn't seem that scary or evil, but she can't go against what her mother taught her
Dec 06, 2012 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Magic or Madness

Reason Cansino and her mother Sarafina have been on the run in the Australia outback as long as Reason can remember. For fifteen years they have been running away from Reasons grandmother Esmeralda, this crazy woman that believes in magic. After her mother suffers a mental breakdown, Reason is sent to her grandmother in Sydney. Soon after arriving Reason finds herself in the streets of NYC, and she is forced to face the truth… her mother did lie.. Reason is magic! You will love t
May 05, 2008 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 14-16, fantasy
This first in a fantasy trilogy is a very fast paced read. Reason's mother goes insane, so she has to go live with her grandmother, the source of her mother's insanity, or so she has been led to believe. Reason tries to avoid contact with Esmerelda, but decides she needs to run away. Little does she know running away will send her from Australia to New York. The book is full of action, a little violence, and is a good entry in the urban fantasy genre. ...more
An uneven novel—parts are boring, a few tidbits are exciting or maddening (what do the feathers at the end mean? Ahh!), but mostly a pretty basic story without anything really standing out. Reason has been on the run from her witch grandmother her entire life, but is her grandmother really as dangerous as her mother says? (The answer, obviously enough, is yes.)
Jun 16, 2008 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
It was an okay book, kind of predictable and the magic isn't quite magic-y enough, it's too defined and it's just kind of okay, not the greatest thing I've read. The characters are good, and the plot's a cool idea, just could be better executed. ...more
Nov 17, 2008 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: people who loves magic
If you are the one who have magic, you will choose magic or madness?
Reason was a teenager who had magic. Around her family, everyone who used their magic died early, but who didn't use their magic became mad around thirty years old.
What would Reason choose?
Jan 13, 2011 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: books-i-own
This is a re-read because I got the other 2 for my birthday. I picked this up at the Penguin sale 2 or 3 years ago and really enjoyed it.

Fun book! Too old for the kids at this point (partly because the 2nd book is even older)
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Justine Larbalestier is an Australian young-adult fiction author. She is best known for the Magic or Madness trilogy: Magic or Madness, Magic Lessons and the newly released Magic's Child. She also wrote one adult non-fiction book, the Hugo-nominated The Battle of the Sexes in Science Fiction (Best Related Book, 2003), and edited another, Daughters of Earth: Feminist Science Fiction in the Twentiet ...more

Other books in the series

Magic or Madness (3 books)
  • Magic Lessons (Magic or Madness, #2)
  • Magic's Child (Magic or Madness, #3)

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