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Smoke and Mirrors
on 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.