A Fantasy Trilogy by Justine Larbalestier and a Free Book

I just finished reading Justine Larbalestier's Magic or Madness series and was impressed with the aptness of the title. The protagonists must choose between magic and madness. If they choose to practice magic they pay a pretty nasty price, a foreshortened life, but if they don't they lose their minds. Talk about a horrible choice. To make matters worse there are predators prepared to steal magic from children and young adults, in order to lengthen the predators' lives. It gives me the shivers just thinking about it.

Reason is a fifteen year old girl who has spent most of her life in the Australian Outback with her mother, moving from place to place, always on the go, often an under an assumed name. Mother and daughter have been hiding from Reason's grandmother Esmeralda, who has custody of Reason. As the series begins Reason's mother, Serafina, has had a breakdown and is in the mental hospital. Social services have hand Reason over to her grandmother, a woman she has been taught to fear and loathe. There's only one thing to do and that's make her escape as soon as possible.

Reason has a special flair for mathematics with a particular love of Fibonacci numbers, using them to soothe herself when she is upset. When her mother attempts suicide and Reason is flown to her grandmother's home she relies on her math to keep her extreme stress under control. She believes terrible things about Esmeralda and refuses to eat or drink anything while in her home. When Reason is left alone she searches the house, both for escape routes and evidence of atrocities. Her mother has told her that Esmeralda eats babies, sacrifices cats, steals energy from men after she seduces them and a host of other terrible crimes.

Reason wants to rescue her mother from the mental hospital, run away with her, and go back to living in the bush. She quizzes Tom, the boy who lives next door, about Esmeralda, the layout of Sydney, the location of the hospital, where Tom's mother is also committed, and everything else she can think of to help their escape. But before she can go she makes a startling discovery. She opens the back door and is suddenly on a street, in the middle of winter, dressed in her pajamas, in a city much bigger than she's ever imagined. There she meets a girl called Jay-Tee, who is hiding her own secrets, secrets that endanger both girls.

This trilogy has plenty of excitement, danger, glamour and romance but it also takes a close look at the difficulty of choices. Doors are an integral part of the story; magical doors that carry the characters across time and space, but there are also less physical doors that close forever as the characters gain knowledge and make decisions that change their lives irrevocably. There are also some intriguing discussions about the cost of magic, the ethics of using it, the intrinsic nature of magic and the physical and ethical ramifications of taking someone else's magic. If someone agrees to let you have some of their limited supply of magic is it okay to take it? Can they really understand what it is they are giving up? My youngest son and I had plenty to discuss when we finished this entertaining trilogy.

Free book from my favorite writer, Neil Gaiman

Neil Gaiman, bestselling author of Sandman, Neverwhere, American Gods, Anansi Boys and a host of others, is touring in support of his new book, The Graveyard Book. I first heard about this book several years ago in New York, when it was described as like Rudyard Kipling's The Jungle Book, only set in a graveyard. My imagination was immediately sparked and I saw dozens of images of Gorey-like children and creatures gamboling in a churchyard. I've been waiting anxiously for the book ever since.

The Graveyard Book tells the story of Bod, a boy who is orphaned as a toddler and is brought up in a graveyard by some interesting characters including a witch, a vampire and a werewolf. The novel was released by Harper Collins on September 30th and is available in hardback or audio. But that's not all; you can also get the book in another format. Neil is reading one chapter at each of the US stops of his book tour. Those readings are being recorded and released, for free, so in the end you can listen to Neil read the entire book.

You can access the recordings here and here.

Neil Gaiman Reads Chapter One of The Graveyard Book from Graveyard Tour on Vimeo.

One-Paragraph Review
This week's one-paragraph review is from All hail the robot masters says, "If you enjoyed the first couple mega man games (complete with mind-snapping difficulty at times), you will love Mega Man 9. And since it is available via download to all next-gen consoles, it is fairly cheap, around 10 dollars." Do you have a one-paragraph (or smaller) review you'd like to share? Send it in to me for consideration. You can reach me at feedback@qualitytimeweekly.com.