by Rosie Thomas
In Victorian London, Devil Wix dreams of one day owning a theater in which he can star. When he discovers the talented Carlo Bonomi, a dwarf whose skill with magic and illusion is unparalleled, he sets in motion a daring plan to catapult himself to success and fame. At his side is the lovely Eliza, an independent young woman working as an artist's model. The passion between Devil and Eliza crackles, but the clever young woman always puts the business first. With the aid of an exceptionally gifted sculptor and an engineer obsessed with automata, their theater troupe should be unstoppable. But death stalks the dark streets that surround their theater, and vengeful rivals and ghosts from Devil's troubled past threaten to derail their best efforts.
I wanted to like this book – who can resist the rich atmosphere of Victorian London, especially with the added mystique of magicians? But The Illusionists suffers from an uneven pacing that proves increasingly frustrating as the book chugs on. The story has such a mishmash of themes. It wants to be a murder mystery (but the clues are telegraphed so blatantly that there's no mystery at all) and a bodice-ripping romance novel, a tale of a self-made man defeating his demons and a plucky young woman surviving incredible odds in a patriarchal society. For long stretches of the narrative, not much happens in the way of plot. Even jumping the novel ahead by weeks or months does little to help these slower segments. Then, the story will suddenly kickstart a new plot thread or theme that briefly revives the book until the plot thread once again grows sluggish or is outright abandoned.
The Illusionists reaches its climax and a suitable end point...and just keeps going for another hundred pages or so. I can't help but wish an editor had judiciously intervened and cut down this extraneous content. It would have done much to tighten the story and preserve the tension.
3 out of 5 stars
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Peeking into the archives...today in:
2014: The Canterbury Tales adapted by Seymour Chwast
2013: Utah Shakespeare Festival: The Tempest
2012: Twain's Feast by Andrew Beahrs
2011: Balzac and the Little Chinese Seamstress by Dai Sijie
2010: Dracula in Love by Karen Essex
2009: Giveaway #10: The White Queen by Philippa Gregory
2008: Neil Gaiman Giveaway Winners