Water for Elephants meets The Night Circus in The Magician’s Lie, a debut novel in which the country’s most notorious female illusionist stands accused of her husband’s murder –and she has only one night to convince a small-town policeman of her innocence.
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.
Comparisons to The Night Circus are fairly apt, in that the story also deals with illusions and theatrics, but more importantly, the magic lies in the slow detailed prose. If you’re looking for an action-filed adventure, seek ye another book.
The tale switches back and forth in time, from the night our MC, Arden, is held in a police station, accused of murder, to the tale of her life as it progresses from childhood to her current circumstances. FYI, it is set in the late 1800s/early 1900s, so the book alludes to many of the initial magician/illusionist developments at the time, which is very interesting.
As a character, I really admired Arden/Ada. She has boundless determination and the understanding that becoming the best is really more about constant discipline and practice than it is about talent. She is relentless in her pursuit for a better life, and bigger performances, and an incredibly hard worker. She knows her own mind. I also felt her pain at her own perceived weakness – classic abused-victim syndrome.
Ray, her abuser, is utterly chilling, and I sped through the pages with a feeling of dread, wondering when he would make his reappearance. A complete sadist (him, not me!), I couldn’t be happier at how he reached his end.
Arden’s relationship with Clyde was an interesting one to watch – they both have strong personalities, and since Arden earns her own money (something that prevented many women from independence at the time), she doesn’t need to bow down to his (nicely worded) demands. They struck me as the kind of couple that need to be apart every now and then to avoid completely burning out on each other. Clyde, to be clear, is not without his flaws, but he appeared to slowly learn the art of compromise. Shrewd, talented and charismatic, he and Arden make quite the pair.
I loved Arden’s feminist leanings – performing a trick where the man is the one being cut in half in the box instead of a women– something deliberately designed to provoke. A woman performing on stage as the main act itself was also something virtually unheard of. And I definitively took a fierce joy in this exchange:
“It scares me,” said Clyde. “To be honest? I’m a man, and to see you cutting a man in half, it makes me worried that you might want to do that to me.”
“Now don’t be scared by this,” I said, “but in a way, I do.”
“How do you suppose I could not be scared by that?” he shouted, springing up.
All in all, a richly woven, descriptive tale of a little bit of magic, rising above one’s circumstances, the power of what we are willing to believe, and continual new beginnings.