I think it would probably occur to me to compare and contrast the first two volumes of Larbalestier’s “Magic or Madness” trilogy with the first two books of Scott Westerfeld’s “Midnighters” trilogy even if I didn’t know the two authors were partners. Many novels feature teenage protagonists simultaneously blessed and cursed with special powers, but Larbalestier and Westerfeld’s systems of magic evince a rare degree of both originality and logic. (They also jointly remind me of Alan Moore’s rigorous extrapolations of superpowers in works like Swamp Thing and Miracleman, and Steven Gould’s hard-nosed explorations of a special power in Jumper and Reflex.)
Magic Lessons continues the story of Reason Cansino as she grapples with the consequences of her new-found abilitites. I was braced for a let-down when I started the book. Part of the pleasure of the first volume ( Magic or Madness) was in puzzling out how Larbalestier’s system of magic works along with Reason, and I expected the second volume to be less surprising on those terms. Even the title seemed a bit lackluster. I had similar misgivings when I started Touching Darkness, the second of Westerfeld’s “Midnighters” books, and in both cases they were completely unfounded.
Magic Lessons makes it immediately clear that it’s not a sequel-as-afterthought, and that there are plenty of additional surprises in store. It starts, quite literally, with a bang, as mysterious forces lay siege from across the globe to the back door of a witch’s house in Sydney, and it never really lets up. Magic Lessons kept me wide awake on two unturbulent airplane flights — no mean feat, because climbing through the troposphere usually puts me out like a snuffed candle. Magic Lessons doesn’t end on a cliff hanger — it’s a satisfying read on its own. But I still can’t wait for the next one.
Needs More Demons? No. Amply supplied with demons.