When Justine first told me about the trilogy she’d sold, I thought it sounded pretty wonderful. A girl goes through a door in Sydney and steps out into New York, where she’s instantly freezing and experiencing snow for the first time in her life. A world in which those who have the ability to use magic can choose between going mad or dying early. A grandmother who might be evil or might be good, a mother who appears good but might be evil, and a host of other options far more complicated.
I’d read and enjoyed a couple of Justine’s short stories (including one we published in Say… ) before she started on the trilogy. The concept itself seemed the perfect one for her to write, the perfect opportunity to capture her extensive knowledge of Australia (particularly Sydney) and New York. But I wasn’t prepared for how much I loved Magic or Madness. It was even better than I’d hoped. It captured Justine’s voice and (to some extent — write a wholly funny book!) sense of humor and the writing was exquisitely pointed. I was particularly impressed by some of the decisions she’d made about point of view — alternating chapters between Reason Cansino in the first person and her friends Jay-Tee and Tom in limited third; a strategy which works beautifully though it would seem full of possibilities to fragment the narrative or make it not seem as cohesive. Justine had clearly come into her own as a writer.
Or so I thought before I read Magic Lessons. Because as good as Magic or Madness is, Magic Lessons is even better. Justine’s writing has become even more delicate, even more finely pointed, even funnier and scarier. It’s rare for a sequel to really build on the first book in a satisfying way, but Magic Lessons accomplishes that. It reminds me, in a way, of Holly Black‘s work — I adored Tithe, but found Valiant to be just jaw-droppingly great.
It’s hard to do what Justine’s doing in these books, and make it look so easy. And it’s hard to be so surprising as a writer — and these books are full of surprising scenes and moments that catch you off guard in the best kind of way. So if you’re in the market for an engrossing fantasy series with a very real real world with characters you care about, you’ll really love these books. Ditto for the teenagers in your life. I don’t want to get into the plot, because as a reader I loathe knowing what happens before I go into a book. I like to experience it as clean as possible. I’m not going to spoil anything for you. Just read them already.