My first ever paychecks were spent on a lot of different things, cake, a Birchbox subscription, rent and of course books. But when I realised that my book buying habits were quickly going to make me utterly bankrupt I realised I needed to look to alternative places to find stories. I turned, of course, to my local library and the many charity shops in the town where I work. While The Illusionists did jump out to me in a charity shop quite a few months ago, I actually obtained it from the Library…I’m a sucker in the end, unable to resist those top hats on the cover.
As a turbulent and change-filled century draws to a close, there has never been a better time to alter your fortune. But for a beautiful young woman of limited means, Eliza’s choices appear to lie between the stifling domesticity of marriage or a downwards spiral to the streets – no matter how determined she is to forge her own path.
One night at a run-down theatre, she meets the charismatic Devil Wix – showman, master of illusion, fickle friend. Drawn into his circle, Eliza becomes the catalyst of change for his colleagues – a dwarf, an eccentric engineer, and an artist – as well as Devil himself. And as Eliza embarks on a dangerous adventure, she must decide which path to choose, and how far she should go when she holds all their lives in her hands.
I am, in the end, glad that I didn’t part with any money getting this book as it’s probably not something I’m going to read again. That’s not to say that I didn’t like reading it, it was fine, even good in some parts. But what really stuck out to me was that this was an excellent story…and that Rosie Thomas was not necessarily the best storyteller.
I mean there was murder, there were creepy automatons, there were illusions, feisty women who didn’t want to adhere to social norms, tall dark handsome magicians- this should have been amazing (though hopefully not quite so penny-dreadful as The Contrary Tale of the Butterfly Girl) but the whole thing was lacking just a little bit of sparkle that would have lifted these characters off the page.
What I needed was to care more about these people, which I think might have been achieved if Thomas had gone into more of the back story of some of the more minor characters, the other theatricals who assist Devil Wix in his theatre company. I love an unlikely band of heroes (like the Avengers but victorian magicians?) and that wasn’t what I was being given.
I can maybe see that Thomas was trying to deliberately contrast the glittering delights of Wix’s stage shows with the grit and the drudgery of everyday life, but if this was the case I needed more in depth descriptions of the stage shows. The brighter the light the deeper the shadow and in this instance the whole thing was kind of just a cloudy day for me.
As I say, this is a really interesting story and there are a fair few twists and turns which really should have captured me. But something was just missing. Perhaps if this had been a little shorter (the version I had was over 500 pages) it might have heightened the drama a little. But given that I already felt that the ending could have had more time taken over it…who knows.
It’s not bad, but that’s probably the nicest thing I can say about it. If you have a bit of time on your hands maybe you could read this…but if you pay any kind of money for it, in my opinion you’ve made a mistake.
My rating: 3/5 stars
Am I wrong, right, did I miss something amazing? Let me know here or on twitter (@judithcmoore)