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.
“There’s too much death. It follows us, lies in wait, then pounces and makes a mockery of all our little concerns. Illusion, tricks, magic? What pitiful vanity it is, Eliza, to try and create wonder out of this sad world.”
This was an impulse purchase that was definitely worth it. Almost instantly, I fell in love with Rosie Thomas’ writing and the world of the Palmyra theatre and its colourful characters that she’d created.
It’s not what I was expecting, but I wasn’t disappointed. Beneath the glitz and glamour of the magical illusions Devil and his company perform every night there is an underlying tale of struggle and that’s what makes this book so engrossing.
The story immediately introduces us to Hector Crumhall, better known as Devil Wix, an alias chosen for himself in an attempt to escape the demons of his past that haunt him every time he falls asleep. Devil is tall, handsome and has a great ambition to one day own a theatre. Devil is an incredibly complex character. As readers, we admire Devil and are sucked in by his charismatic charm. However, as the story progresses and we take a darker turn, we see all of this magical man’s flaws laid brutally bare. In a way, he’s an anti-hero of The Illusionists. It’s not surprising that Eliza finds herself drawn to Devil and thinks she can saved his troubled soul.
I must express my fondness to Devil’s unlikely right-hand man, Carlo Boldoni, a dwarf who happens to have an exceptional talent as a magician. He and Mr. Wix pair up and form their own illusion trick to perform at the Palmyra. Carlo’s a character that you feel a bit conflicted towards throughout the novel. He, much like Devil and many other men in The Illusionists, is quite taken with Eliza and it’s quite sad. Although I did root for Eliza and Devil, Carlo was a character I did symapthise with greatly. His letter to Eliza was actually quite heartbreaking, but I don’t want to spoil that for you incase you do decide to pick this book up!
There are many other secondary characters who are essential to the Palmyra theatre and to Devil Wix. One being, Heinrich Beyer. An enigmatic fellow obsessed with creating automata. It’s all fun and games with Heinrich until his fixation to give his doll, Lucie, a voice turns into something twisted and sinister. Another of Wix’s friends is Jasper Button, an artist at a wax museum and the only one who knows the truth to Devil’s dark past.
The Illusionists takes us through the whole of London. From dark alleyways, squalid lodging houses and rowdy Victorian public houses. Everything about this novel is so atmospheric and described in such vivid detail from the scenery to the magic illusions performed at the Palmyra themselves.
It’s no short read at just under five hundred pages, but it’s one that you can dip into when you want to relax and be transported to this unusual and captivating world. It’s different to anything I’ve read before and has prompted to me to perhaps pick up Rosie Thomas’ other books when I have the time.
The Illusionists is a tale that is rooted in love. Firstly, for the theatre and then for our leading lady Eliza. It is driven by the friendship of Devil, Eliza, Carlo, Jasper and, I suppose, the eerie Heinrich and the odd family they become over time. Like I said earlier, we delve deeper into the struggles of these characters and the emotional burdens they have. Despite the magic of the Palmyra, nothing is sugar coated and it’s a very gritty and real book whilst maintaining a bit of Gothic glamour.
I know I keep using the word, but it really is a magical story about this group of unique and troubled individuals brought together by their love for the theatre as they try to find their place in the world.
I do have to add that I found this highly more enjoyable than The Night Circus. I felt like The Illusionists had the exact thing that Erin Morgenstern’s novel had lacked and that is a plot. Regardless of this, I think fans of The Night Circus, and everyone with an imagination, will definitely enjoy this book.