The Illusionists by Rosie Thomas
|The Illusionists by Rosie Thomas|
|Category: Women's Fiction|
|Reviewer: Ani Johnson|
|Summary: Part historical fiction romance partially lifting the veil from Victorian theatrical illusions, always asking if even we the readers can believe what we perceive; escapism that provides a warm glow in oh so many ways.|
|Buy? Yes||Borrow? Yes|
|Pages: 336||Date: February 2014|
|Publisher: Harper Collins|
|External links: Author's website|
Devil Wix is a great Victorian illusionist. Admittedly Lady Luck hasn’t been too good to him lately and he may look a little ragged but he's talented and repeatedly tells himself so. One particular night as he's reassuring himself over a drink or three, he runs into Carlo Boldoni. (Or rather Carlo runs into him as he's picking Devil's pocket at the time.) Formerly Charlie Morris and a dwarf to the Victorians/person of restricted growth to us, Carlo was part of a performing troupe but now finds himself alone due to tragic circumstances. They join forces but little do they know the future nor the part that a certain young lady will play in it.
British writer Rosie Thomas has 21 books to her back catalogue, 20 of which are fiction, an achievement that hasn't gone unnoticed. Indeed The Kashmir Shawl was awarded Romantic Novel of the Year, Epic Category.
As we discovered when Rosie dropped in to talk to us at BB Towers a couple of years ago, she loves to travel to her prospective book settings to absorb the atmosphere. However she wouldn't even have needed a passport for this one as The Illusionists is centred on London at the end of the 19th century, around the more down-at-heel theatres and the even downer-at-heel theatrical digs. There's nothing down-at-heel about Rosie's writing though. Not only is The Illusionists well-researched and salted with period feeling and factoids, it also has a warm JB Priestley Good Companions style camaraderie and that's not all.
The factor that raises this above the average hist fict romance is the character complexity. I've just tried to explain what I mean, giving examples and then proceeded to delete it again as it became a spoiler so you'll just have to trust me! Some of the characters only reveal their inner feelings to us (it's ok first-person-narrative-haters, it's all third person) while for others their internal upheavals bubble over becoming all too evident.
Devil Wix (no, not the name his parents gave him!) demands centre stage and deservedly gets it. Not only is he an illusionist, he's wonderfully larger than life and, when we first meet him, is without the proverbial rubbing coinage. He has vision and the impetus to put his ideas into action once he's met Carlo. Carlo's imagination meshes well with Devil's which is more than you can say for their fiery temperaments sometimes.
I also loved Jasper, a boyhood friend of Wix's who's become a theatrical special effects artist while still yearning to create that portrait or landscape masterpiece. He's also a witness to a foolish childhood moment in Devil's life that returns to haunt Wix viciously.
The love interest is provided by Jasper's friend Eliza, an artists' life model enticed by greasepaint and limelight.
The niceties, problems and sheer brutality of Victorian life also feature, from murder to mannered inability to reveal feelings. As we wander through the slums and tread the boards before mercurially-tempered audiences we understand the pressures and empathise. Sometimes the magic tricks are explained to a degree that cuts the pace a little, but then that may be a source of fascination for those who want to see how it was all done.
For me there's one line in the novel that sums it up. Someone describes Wix as being …good at reinterpreting reality in his own favour. That not only goes for the story's recurring theme, but is also the mark of a good author. Therefore, for me, it's a coincidentally good description of Rosie Thomas.
Thank you, HarperCollins for providing us with a copy for review.
You can read more book reviews or buy The Illusionists by Rosie Thomas at Amazon.co.uk
You can read more book reviews or buy The Illusionists by Rosie Thomas at Amazon.com.
Like to comment on this review?
Just send us an email and we'll put the best up on the site.