My thanks to NetGalley and Endeavour Media for a review copy of this book.
I requested this one because the combination of Victorian England and magic was one that sounded exciting—something like Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell, perhaps. This story opens with Tom Winter, a music teacher who gives the daughters of the well-to-do piano lessons, being cheated when purchasing some herrings for supper at the docks. He notices some shadows, a flicker of something, only to find that his old friend, Walter Balanchine has returned to London after three years in the East, and proposes to start performing magic acts based on what he’s learnt over this time, in which Tom is to assist him. Accompanying him back from the East are a young boy Kayan, and a black panther, Sinbad. But the unique and intriguing Walter is not merely an illusionist but also a healer, who wants to help those in distress, even if he isn’t a doctor in the traditional sense. Tom manages to find him an engagement, and they soon become a rage in town. In one of their ‘magic’ shows Tom notices the beautiful, young Tamara Huntingdon, and their lives take an unexpected turn. Tamara is to be married to the much older and sinister Cecil Hearst, and appeals to Tom to rescue her from this fate. Tom of course, turns to Walter and so begins their unexpected adventure.
This was a book I thoroughly enjoyed reading. Though I must say, when starting this book, while I was enjoyed the elements of the magic/illusion shows, and Walter’s character, I wasn’t sure where all of it was leading or what direction the story would take. However, once Tamara enters the plot, and more specifically, when she asks Tom for help and Walter begins to formulate his plan, I really began to get drawn into the story, not wanting to put it down. Even then, I couldn’t really tell where everything was headed or how things would turn out, and there were plenty of turns the plot took, plenty of little mysteries and revelations, nearly all the way to the end that I didn’t see coming and made it all the more interesting to read.
The characters are in some ways black and white, not so much grey about them―yet they are all believable. Tom, Walter, Sally, Kayan, and Tamara are each very likeable, each with their own distinct personality―one feels for them and wants things to turn out well for them. Cecil Hearst is menacing, creepy, sadistic, and all else in the same direction―someone who likes to show his power, to be in control, with no concern really for what he is doing and who he is doing it to. He was generally well done, with his equally intimidating henchmen, but there were points at which I felt may be not as convinced by his power. And Walter, I can’t not comment on him. Probably the most unique character in the book, both in appearance and in his traits, and one whose magic soon begins to affect the reader as well—at first, I wasn’t sure if (because of his unusual traits) he’d turn out magical but unsettling, but soon enough one realises, he is someone who really wants to help people, and who will ultimately come through for them, someone one begins to have faith in.
The settings too were an element I enjoyed, particularly Victorian London, where we see both the homes and lives of the wealthy, and of those struggling for survival. And this is yet another book where there is magic and Prague in one! And of course, there is also the ‘magic’ in the book which also took an unexpected turn. While there is the usual magic of marvellous illusions, hypnosis, and tricks, the real magic of the book turned out to be very different—more the kind that real life can sometimes hold, where things fall into place, and eventually all turns out right! While this was a book where one faces real life in all its ‘not so pretty’ forms, the overall impression it leaves you with at the end is of a ‘feel good’ book, where things will be right after all. Four and a half stars.