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3.9 out of 5 stars79
3.9 out of 5 stars
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TOP 100 REVIEWERon 1 March 2014
Rosie Thomas's latest novel takes us back to Victorian London where we are introduced to Hector Crumhall, better known as Devil Wix, a tall and darkly handsome man, fascinated with the art of illusion and who is determined to one day own his own theatre. When he meets Carlo Boldoni, a dwarf who also happens to be a very talented magician, the two pair up and form their own illusion act which appears at a rundown theatre named the Palmyra. At the Palmyra, Devil meets Heinrich Bayer, a strange character who makes automatons (one of which, Lucie, he treats as if she is a real woman) and Heinrich, Devil and Carlo become friends of sorts. Added to this trio, we meet Jasper Button, an artist who works at a wax museum and who is party to a tragic secret from Devil's past and, through Jasper, we meet the beautiful Eliza Dunlop. Eliza, an independent young woman who works as a life model at a nearby art school and who yearns to be on the stage, is impressed by Devil's and Carlo's flamboyant illusion act and before long the strong attraction between her and Devil becomes obvious to those around them. However, Devil is not the only man who is interested in Eliza: there is Jasper, who is in love with her; there is Carlo, who becomes devoted to Eliza when she nurses him back to health after an almost fatal illness, and there is the enigmatic Heinrich, whose adoration turns into something rather strange and sinister - but I shall leave the rest of this tale for prospective readers to discover...

Filled with some unusual and rather bizarre characters and events, Rosie Thomas's atmospheric story takes us on a journey into the dark alleyways, the squalid lodging houses and the rowdy public houses of Victorian London and right into the seductive, but perilous world of the shady Palmyra Theatre. A friend lent me this book as some light relief from a rather heavy title I have started reading and, although I have read and enjoyed some of this author's books before, I was a little unsure about this one, especially when I learnt the hero was a tall, dark, handsome magician called Devil. However, although not on a par with some of Rosie Thomas's previous novels, and I have to admit to finding parts of this book rather melodramatic, other parts were good fun and I found myself drawn into this fast-moving story of theatrical exploits, and the almost five hundred pages flew past quickly and effortlessly. This is not a literary novel (and not meant to be one) but if you allow yourself to enter into the spirit of the story, this could work well as an undemanding and entertaining escapist read for you.

3 Stars.
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Rosie Thomas as such does give us quite an enjoyable novel here, although there are few points that do cause some grating and annoyance at times. Starting off as a tale of two magicians this then becomes something slightly more as one of them, Devil, wants to take over the management of the theatre that they are playing at.

Spanning the latter decades of the 19th Century there is a lot packed into the pages here, with madness, love, illness, illusions, and running a theatre. This is where the problem lies with the story though as it does have a tendency to flit between subjects, almost as if the author thought let me add something here and there, instead of creating something that runs smoothly. The way it is set out would actually work better if it had been done as a series of interconnecting tales rather than one long story.

With certain incidents that are quite clearly signposted you know what will happen, whereas others just crop up with no particular reason. Whereas we start off with our two illusionists creating new tricks for their act, this then becomes more about running a theatre, and then turns into more of a family story, which don’t really meld that well together, and in the process a lot of information is left out making you scratch your head. The main characters here though are quite memorable, and I believe that there is going to be a sequel to this book, which I probably will not read.

In all then this is okay as such to read providing you are not looking for something with a bit more depth or something that is more literary, if you are then it is best to look elsewhere as this does have a tendency to wander.
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on 24 March 2014
Rosie Thomas has delivered yet again, with a typically well-rersearched and convincing tale. Her heroine Eliza is a bold and independent creature and her milieu is a London which is changing fast; this is depicted with Rosie's usual skill and panache. Don't be put off by those who complain that this isn't "The Kashmir Shawl"; of course it's not. Thomas is always doing something different and her readers always get the rewards.
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on 16 April 2014
Bestselling author of the phenomenally successful The Kashmir Shawl is back with her latest literary installment and this time she’s kept it local.

Enter the dirty and depraved streets of London in 1870 and meet Eliza, beautiful, fiercely independent and defying convention. Through her work, as an artist’s model, she meets the magnetic and unashamedly stubborn Devil, a born showman whose dream is to own his own theatre. Third in our unlikely trio is Carlo Bonomi, a hot-tempered dwarf with a ridiculous talent for contortion and illusion. Strong personalities mean emotions run high with only Eliza on hand to balance the uneasy peace. Mild-mannered artist Jasper Button and socially awkward Heinrich Bayer complete our unexpected family. Thrown together by a twist of fate, their lives are inextricably linked and as Eliza gets sucked into the seductive and dangerous world that her strange companions inhabit, she risks not only her heart, but also her life.

The novel is rooted in love, first and foremost that of the theatre, but also love of our leading lady Eliza. She has a beautiful spirit and sense of character and I could certainly identify with her conflicting emotions and her desire not to be dominated by the man she loves, she wants to be an equal. The disruptions between the motley crew of characters stem indirectly from her as the competition between her admirers rages through the pages – although one should note that it’s an unfair battle as she is fated from day one to be with one man in particular.

With that in mind, prepare to fall in love yourself. Devil Wix embodies the elusive, mysterious and artistic man who makes women flutter their eyelashes and fall at his feet – plus he’s got a dark side and a past shrouded in shadows. If I were to cast him in the cinematic adaptation (as I am sure one will follow swiftly) I would cast Ben Whishaw – sorry Mr Depp you’re a bit old for this one!

His second in command Carlo was a poignant character. We discover him drowning in sadness (and beer) after losing his family and fighting a bitter battle against society’s reaction to his stature. Following his descent into anger and eventually an all-consuming jealousy you cannot help but become emotionally entangled, although at times his attitudes were a tad extreme.

Strangely enough, the individual that stood out for me was the eerie individual of Heinrich Bayer, a creator of automatons (a type of robot) who becomes unhealthy attached to his creation Lucy. His act is to dance with Lucy every night at the theatre something which is initially beautiful but quickly becomes disturbing especially when he gives her a ‘voice’, in fact Eliza’s voice. It’s his storyline that provides a unique and extremely dark plot-line that ensures the story has edge and continued momentum alongside the growth of the theatre.

This is a magical, atmospheric and gothic tale of a group of unique and often disturbed individuals who are brought together by the theatre and develop into an inextricably linked family.

Rating: 9 out of 10 – fans of The Night Circus will love this (as will everyone with a touch of imagination)
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on 18 March 2014
This is not a run of the mill Rosie Thomas. it is far more complex and intriguing with an adroitly handled period setting. The characters and events are believable and involving so that you really care what happns to them. I can't help thinking of this as a TV series waiting to happen. I loved it and can not wait for more in the same vein.
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on 25 March 2014
This story seems to go nowhere, with a lack of any engaging characters. Very hard to finish and a lack of depth.
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on 21 May 2014
This is an intriguing setting and the plot is definitely enticing, but the whole thing is disappointing because of the annoying characters. I would definitely much rather have read the story of Jasper and Hannah, or Carlo's story, than Eliza and Devil's. Even the author herself seems to know that Eliza and Devil are not suited to each other at all, as she has to keep stressing in the narrative that they are a "perfect match" because she knows the characters themselves do not make it clear enough. Eliza is supposed to be a modern woman for the time, but thinks she is a lot more modern than she is, and as she is so unlikeable it's very hard to understand why all the men in the book love her so much. Devil could be a wonderful character as he is so mysterious and dark, but he ruins it with his selfish attitude and the fact that he makes it clear on more than one occasion that he'd rape Eliza if she didn't let him into her bed eventually. I enjoyed the book and found parts of it really exciting but the characters brought it down to 3 stars for me.
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on 15 May 2014
I put this book down in the end as it is so slow and hard to get into, not up to her usual standard at all, really disappointed.
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on 21 August 2015
I usually love books by this author, but this is a lot different from her usual style. I just can't get into it and I am afraid I am finding it very slow and frankly a bit boring. Half way through now and not a lot has happened. I think I am going to give up on it.
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on 12 November 2014
A gripping and unusual novel with many unexpected twists and turns. I couldn't put this book down.
Rosie Thomas is able to keep her audience guessing with her intricate plots. I can't wait for my next read.
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