Wednesday, February 11, 2015

'The Illusionists'

For the past few weeks, I've been reading manuscripts as a courtesy to some aspiring writers.  Why they want me to read them, I have no idea.  But I do know what I like...and what I don't like.  Most readers know when a story flows, and when the characters become real to them.  You don't need to be a rocket scientist (or literature professor) to know what feels most comfortable.

I was reading a manuscript for a young romance novelist friend when I received a notice from the library that a book I've had on my Hold list had finally arrived.

Once I had 'The Illusionists' in my hands, the manuscript was forgotten for a few days.

I was immediately taken with the story.  The richness and vibrancy.  The sense of place and decade.  I was sucked in so fully that there was no way I could get out of it. 

Author Rosie Thomas is known primarily as a romance author (which isn't a bad thing, mind you), and her talent shines in her newest story.  But it's more than romance.  It's magic, and greed, and resentment.  The characters are brilliantly portrayed, and I wonder if Thomas based them on real people.

At the beginning of The Illusionists, in 1870 London, we meet clever and ambitious Devil Wix, a man who dreams of running his own theater company.  Soon to enter the mix is Eliza, a young, beautiful woman who is employed as an artist's model.  She has no desire to be like the women of her age; mother and dutiful wife.  She longs for excitement, and finds that and more when she meets Devil.

Devil's right-hand man is Carlo Bonomi, an ill-tempered dwarf with an enormous talent for all things magic and illusion.  He and Devil clash constantly, and it is Eliza who brokers an uneasy alliance between them. And then there is Jasper Button, mild-mannered and a family man at heart, but it is his gift as an artist that makes him the final member of the motley crew.

Together, they become a company of performers, ready for independence and a theater of their own.

I was really impressed with Thomas' writing style.  It's gritty and real, and I love her 'sense of place'.  Her characters took their time in revealing themselves, and it made the journey even more interesting.

But Eliza....
Author Rosie Thomas

She's a woman who knows what she wants, and knows just when she wants it.  

And Devil.  Oh, lordy lordy.  Gorgeous, naughty, brilliant.  But not your 'run-of-the-mill' romantic hero.  He's no hero.  He has a past that still haunts him, and companions who either love him or hate him.  He's flawed and so very real.

I was impressed by Thomas' research of the era. Her portrayal of a city that had a brilliant surface, but a tragic undertone was beautifully realized.  I truly enjoyed reading this story.

Reading this story gave me the courage to tell my young writer friend that her story needed more depth.  She needs to suck it up and be true to herself and her story.  

Who knows where it will lead?  Hopefully, it will lead to a story as finely written as 'The Illusionists'.

'The Illusionists', written by Rosie Thomas, is available at your local library and favorite independent bookstore.  ISBN 978-1-4683-0990-4

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