Thursday, April 24, 2014

The Illusionists by Rosie Thomas

From the bestselling author of the phenomenally successful 
The Kashmir Shawl

London 1870. A terrifying place for a young, beautiful woman of limited means. But Eliza is modern before her time. Not for her the stifling if respectable conventionality of marriage, children, domestic drudgery. She longs for more. Through her work as an artist’s model, she meets the magnetic and irascible Devil – a born showman whose dream is to run his own theatre company.

Devil’s right-hand man is the improbably-named Carlo Bonomi, an ill-tempered dwarf with an enormous talent for all things magic and illusion. Carlo and Devil clash at every opportunity and it constantly falls upon Eliza to broker an uneasy peace between them. And then there is Jasper Button. Mild-mannered, and a family man at heart, it is his gift as an artist which makes him the unlikely final member of the motley crew.

Thrown together by a twist of fate, their lives are inextricably linked: the fortune of one depends on the fortune of the other. And as Eliza gets sucked into the seductive and dangerous world her strange companions inhabit, she risks not only her heart, but also her life…

Rosie Thomas's latest novel, The Illusionists, is a tale set in Victorian London where we are introduced to a small troop of misfits struggling to make a living in theatre. Hector Campbell, who prefers to call himself Devil Wix, is a magician running from a a dark secret in his past. Wily, and cunning, he aspires too own his own theatre one day. Carlo Boldoni is a dwarf who doubles as an illusionist and contortionist. Together with Devil, they create an act that grows ever more popular in the London theatre called the Palmyra. Heinrich Bayer is an introvert who makes life-size female automatons. His favourite is Lucie and he treats her as if she is a real flesh and blood woman. Jasper Button is a childhood friend of Devil and he knows Devil's dark secret. Jasper's girlfriend is Eliza Dunlop who aspires to be an actress and a career on the stage. Both Jasper and Devil vie for Eliza's love. 

This character driven novel is filled with odd and unusual characters whose personalities and quirks are revealed as the story progresses. Although the plot is not fast-moving, the story-line is compelling for its vivid descriptions and fascinating characters who are anything but normal and predictable. The love triangle between Jasper, Devil, and Eliza is compelling. My favourite character is Carlo, the feisty dwarf whose loyalty to Eliza knows no bounds. And of course, the oddest character of all is Heinrich, whose obsessions threaten to destroy them all. 
Filled with bizarre exploits, intriguing descriptions of the squalor of life among London society's poor, and unusually strange characters made this a compelling read despite the fact the pace was a little on the slow side. However, this is not unusual for a character driven novel. Definitely, an entertaining read that stands out for its unique qualities. 

The Illusionists has been released in the U.K with a North American release date in July 2014.

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