“The Illusionists” has a premise that should be great: set in 1885 London, a group of people-stage magicians, a scientist who makes life sized mechanical dolls, an independent woman who leaves her middle class home to become an artist’s model, an artist who makes amazing wax models and props. Add in a highly competitive theater owner and a lot of sexual tension between, well, nearly everyone and it should be a story that one couldn’t put down. Sadly, while the book is okay- I enjoyed it- I can’t call it great.
While the characters are interesting- Devil Wix the fast talking stage magician; his new partner Carol Boldoni, a dwarf who is a world class contortionist and illusionist; Jasper Button the artist and childhood friend of Wix’s; Heinrich Bayer the introverted engineer who adores his mechanical dancer; and Eliza Dunlop, who has a very modern outlook for someone of her class and time and seems a bit of a Mary Sue- none of them has much depth. We get backstory on Devil and Eliza, and a bit on Button, but nothing on Boldoni or Bayer. The setting is wonderful; the decaying theater brought back to life and the hustle of the behind the scenes work- I loved the descriptions of the magical illusions. The pace is odd, though. There are a couple of events of great tension and excitement that would seem to be the climax of the story, but they don’t resolve anything. The first one, around the middle of the book, just happens with no explanation. Why the character does what he did there and what his goal was are never explored. The violence at the end upsets everyone, but it changes no one; they just go on about their lives.
I enjoyed the book but it could have used a good editor to help with the pacing and characters.
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