The Illusionists – the magic and underbelly of Victorian London – Rosie Thomas

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Why a booktrail?

Take a magical mystery tour around Victorian London and to the characters who perform each night at the Palmyra theatre. Everything and everyone has a dark side – even magic.

Story in a tophat

London 1885

Along the Strand in the centre of London stands a small theatre called the Palmyra. It’s run down, has little success and should really probably close but then that’s before the illusionists take the stage.

Devil Wix is a master of illusion and drama, running as he is from a dark and secret past. Ideal for his tricks of contortion, he joins forces with Carlo Boldoni, a dwarf, and together their act becomes one of legend.

Drawing in the crowds can cause its own set of problems however as as they become more noted, so too do their enemies.

And then one day, young miss Eliza comes to see the show and her fate becomes entangled with the illusion and darkness of all that she sees in front of her.

The world of the illusionists awaits…..

Place and setting

ovent Garden Cinque Ports  -the old pub where they all go is fictional yet there are taverns frequented behind the Covent Garden area and this is where many circus looking acts still perform! The Palmyra theatre is The stage of the Illusionists  - fictional yet situated on the Strand. The Aldwych is a grand theatre where The Palmyra might have stood Clerkenwell Where Heinrich lives in a secluded house Waterloo bridge Where an incident takes place Camden Town Where Jasper has his workshop. The area is popular for its market and street food.
Covent Garden
Cinque Ports –the old pub where they all go is fictional yet there are taverns frequented behind the Covent Garden area and this is where many circus looking acts still perform!
The Palmyra theatre is The stage of the Illusionists – fictional yet situated on the Strand. The Aldwych is a grand theatre where The Palmyra might have stood
Clerkenwell
Where Heinrich lives in a secluded house
Waterloo bridge
Where an incident takes place
Camden Town
Where Jasper has his workshop. The area is popular for its market and street food.

The lights dim, the curtain goes up and…..Sit back, but don’t relax too  much for not everything you are about to see is real. For you have entered a world of magic and illusion.

The audience shifted in their seats. There was another flash of light and smoke drifted across the stage….

From the dirty, squalid streets of Victorian London, the Palmyra theatre offers an escape from life  – there’s a man who contorts himself into all manner of positions, tricks and flights of fancy, trap doors, floating heads and shocks and surprises to last you a lifetime. More fascinating still, is how these tricks are practiced and performed, the backstage infighting, the stress of getting a show out there, from the view point of the illusionists themselves.

“Apart from endless practice, it was audacity, force of personality, and the glamour of the stage itself that created magic out of sheer mechanics”

This London of stage and greasepaint, the squalor the neighbouring streets is seen through the eyes of the illusionists and Eliza, a young lady who comes into their world whilst escaping her own.

And where else could you meet characters such as Devil, Carlo, Heinrich who makes chilling automatons, Jasper who can create miracles from wax..

She enters a world she is at first excluded from due to her sex but by determination and sheer passion, she forms her own path but there are shadows lurking. A love triangle complicates matters but those shadows grow larger and darker…

By mixing with a man called Devil and an illusionist at that, who knows if the world will swallow her up or be her salvation?

Bookish musings

The world of the illusionists is a dark stage and the workings behind the scenes normally out of bounds. But this novel takes you backstage, along the corridors, beneath the trapdoor and really gets you involved with how the world of magic is a tricky and difficult one. I had no idea of how magicians fought to get their acts headlining at certain theatres etc or the work and pain involved with perfecting their act, but this novel really took me there!

It really does have a dark side and the underbelly of London and the magic scene is definitely a major character. The book is a long one and although I think it could have been shorter and just as good, the ambience it immerses you in is another world entirely. It’s an historical romance with a difference too although for me it was the setting and the illusion of it all which makes the book’s premise so intriguing.

We’ve been to Kashmir and now behind the stage in London – wonder what Rosie Thomas’ next trick is going to be?

3 thoughts on “The Illusionists – the magic and underbelly of Victorian London – Rosie Thomas

  1. Ooh I hadn’t realised Rosie Thomas had another book out, especially with such enticing subject matter. I do admire the breadth of timelines, places and themes this author covers. This is going on my Wishlist!

  2. Pingback: Stacking the Shelves (June 6) | Cleopatra Loves Books

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