Reviewed by Colleen Turner
“My mother had called him weak, but I chose not to believe what she’d said. She had been searching for a way to justify her own choices. It was the first time I realized that we all bend and shape our stories to fit our own ends. It was certainly not the last.” – from The Magician’s Lie
From page one of The Magician’s Lie the reader is drawn in when the main character, “The Amazing Arden”, the famous female illusionist, declares “tonight, I will do the impossible” by releasing herself from her torturer and killing him. Lo and behold, that very same night the illusionist’s husband is found dead beneath the stage where she performed a gruesome act of sawing a man in half, an act she has become renowned for. But did she murder him? Is this the man who tortured her and whom she vowed to kill? What really happened that night?
Police Officer Holt, who was in the audience of Arden’s show, apprehends her trying to escape and decides to hear her full story before deciding whether or not she murdered the man and whether or not he should turn her over to those investigating the murder. As Arden relays her story to Holt he has to navigate through the shifting details to decipher fact from fiction. Could her wondrous story, filled with unfathomable hardships, travel and adventure and even a touch of real magic, be true? Holt, facing his own harsh reality and the potential loss of his career, knows that finding out the truth could not only save Arden’s life but his own. But as the hours tick by he realizes that the truth isn’t always as black and white as it seems.
The Magician’s Lie weaves back and forth through time, from Arden telling Holt her story in 1905 to her life as it happened beginning in 1892 and making it back to the actions that led to her arrest. Throughout the story the reader is firmly along for the ride with Holt, trying to decipher the truth from fiction in Arden’s story and trying to see where the story is headed while Arden is always ten steps ahead at all times. At the same time Arden, brilliant and brazen as they come, collects small dollops of information about Holt as she spins her tale of sorrow and joy that encompasses everything from a difficult upbringing to a psychopathic man who haunts her throughout her life whether he is standing before her or not. But even as you get lost in her story you can’t help wondering: how much of this is true?
I am fully amazed by not only this plot but this beautifully written story. There were sentences that I found myself reading over and over because they are just perfect. The lilting, dancing descriptions are captivating and I actually lost myself in the reading a few times so that when I finally paused I found that more time had passed then I anticipated. I heard nothing and saw nothing while with Arden!
There are also delightful tidbits of history throughout that are fascinatingly incorporated into the novel. The reader gets a behind the scenes view of not only traveling shows and magical acts but of The Biltmore Estate (which I now am dying to visit) and the horrific Iroquois Theatre Fire in Chicago on January 1st, 1904, which the author worked into the story at a pivotal point. The pacing is spot on, starting out slow and building and building until the end flies at the reader and leaves them breathless and satisfied as they turn the last page.
While the central question of whether Arden is telling the truth or not about the murder is certainly important, the story also brings up the question of whether or not what each character tells themselves is truth or illusion, or, as I believe it is for most of us, a mix of both. This is a story of true love, twisted obsession, magic, reality and everything in between. This one’s a keeper!
Colleen lives in Tampa, Florida with her husband, son, and their dogs Oliver and Cleopatra. When not working or taking care of her family she has her nose stuck in a book (and, let’s face it, often when she is working or taking care of her family as well). Nothing excites her more than discovering a new author to obsess over or a hidden jewel of a book to worship. You can find more of her reviews on her blog.
Review copy was provided free of any obligation by Sourcebooks Landmark. No monetary or any other form of compensation was received.