January 14, 2015

Murder & Magic

The Magician's Lie by Greer Macallister

Release Date: January 13, 2015
Publisher: Sourcebooks
Pages: 320 pages
Source & Format: Publisher at BEA; ARC
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Summary (from Goodreads)
The Amazing Arden is the most famous female illusionist of her day, renowned for her notorious trick of sawing a man in half on stage. One night in Waterloo, Iowa, with young policeman Virgil Holt watching from the audience, she swaps her trademark saw for a fire ax. Is it a new version of the illusion, or an all-too-real murder? When Arden’s husband is found lifeless beneath the stage later that night, the answer seems clear.

But when Virgil happens upon the fleeing magician and takes her into custody, she has a very different story to tell. Even handcuffed and alone, Arden is far from powerless—and what she reveals is as unbelievable as it is spellbinding. Over the course of one eerie night, Virgil must decide whether to turn Arden in or set her free… and it will take all he has to see through the smoke and mirrors.

Thoughts on The Magician's Lie
I was able to get a copy of The Magician's Lie while I was at BEA last year, and I was excited to read this historical fiction. I loved the cover, and the summary reminded me a bit of a cross between The Night Circus and Water for Elephants. And while I still think that's a good comparison, I don't think this novel executes its premise nearly as well as the other two books do. It starts off strong, but it fizzles out by the end.

The Amazing Arden is a female illusionist famous for her most notorious trick: sawing a man in half on stage. When her husband is found dead under the stage, questions begin to surface. Did a last-minute change in the trick allow Arden to commit murder? Unfortunately for Arden, she's captured by a local police officer. But instead of turning her in, he'll allow her just a few hours to tell her story. By the end, he'll decide whether the woman who makes a living with illusions is finally telling the truth... or if she's performing another elaborate lie.

Initially, I was hooked. The writing was captured my attention, and I was drawn in by the story of the dead man and the female illusionist wanted for his murder. There's this mystery and desperation in the beginning of the book, and I couldn't put it down! I wanted to know if Arden was guilty, and if she wasn't... who was?

Although The Magician's Lie opens in the present, the majority of the book takes place in the past. When Arden tells her story, she starts at the very beginning: her childhood. She weaves an intriguing and moving story of pain, fear, determination, magic and mystery. Because of her history, I felt sympathy for Arden. She's had a hard life, and you can't help but admire what she's made of herself. In particular, I loved the portions detailing her rise to fame. I was fascinated by the way the illusions worked and kept picturing them in my mind.

However, I had issues with the magical elements of the story. Arden possesses a strange ability, but the why or how of it are never explained. I found it frustrating because it felt way too convenient! If you're going to have something like that in a story, I feel like it needs to serve a purpose beyond helping the character get out of difficult situations... especially if no one else seems to have magical abilities. It felt so out of place, and it was one of the things that annoyed me most about The Magician's Lie. Either commit to the magical aspect (like in The Night Circus) and explain it better or eliminate it completely.

And the ending was what made the promising beginning particularly disappointing. For all the set up, the ending ultimately felt rushed and implausible. I wanted to be shocked and riveted in those last few pages, and instead I was reconsidering some of the holes in the story that I'd previously ignored and dismissed. It wasn't an awful ending, but it also wasn't impressive either. Sadly, The Magician's Lie had an interesting premise with an uneven execution. I don't regret reading it, but I wouldn't pick it up again or be likely to push it on anyone.
*I received a copy of this book from the publisher for review consideration. This did not affect my opinion of the book or my review.

2 comments:

  1. How disappointing! I hate when endings let you down and rush through the conclusion, especially when you have to suspend disbelief so much. This was sounding really intriguing but now I'm tempted to get you to just tell me the ending hah.

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  2. Aww, boo! The Magician's Lie has a really great premise, to the point where I would've wanted to read it simply because of that. It's unfortunate that it starts strong, but fails to end on the same note :( I'm quite curious about how this one plays out though, so like Morgan, I may just have to convince you to tell me what happens!

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