Together they start a magic act at the Palmyra Theater, working for Jacko Grady, a greedy selfish man with no more vision other than filling his own pockets. Heinrich Bayer, a Swiss maker of automata is another of the acts, and together they stage the card game that wins Wix the Palmyra from Grady. But as Devil says himself, this is only the beginning.
Eliza dreams of being part of the Theater, and now that Devil owns it, she gets her chance. Devil and her have an unspoken mutual attraction, and after Devil fails to seduce her one night, they keep each other at a distance - as much distance as one can when working together and being huddled together in a tiny box onstage ever night, that is. For Eliza's playlet, "Charlotte and the Chaperone" is doing well at the Palmyra, and as the Theater grows, more people come to work there. Devil's childhood friend Jasper, who is also in love with Eliza, is an important part of the workshop that creates parts for the illusions. But also Carlo and Heinrich Bayer seem to have a sweet eye for Eliza.
Heinrich Bayer is growing weirder by the minute. His act of waltzing with his automaton Lucie is becoming more advanced as he insists that Eliza be Lucie's voice. Eliza doesn't like the idea, but cannot find a cause to decline, and Bayer records her voice for Lucie's words. After Devil drops the Lucie act, however, Bayer becomes darker by the day, and Eliza starts to fear the man she used to sympathize with.
Devil has his own demons. An act in his childhood keeps haunting him, and his enemies decide to exploit that. The persistent "friendly" rivalry between Devil and Carlo is growing worse, and Devil comes to see that even a lot of time has passed since the night he won the Palmyra from Jacko Grady.
The Illusionists is a dazzling and riveting story that gripped me from the get-go. All the characters are ambiguous and their motives keep changing throughout the story. Although Devil and Eliza are probably the main characters, we don't always sympathize with them. No one is just good or bad, (except Jacko Grady), they are all to some extent watching out for their own interests and have their own weaknesses. At the end, they all just want to be loved and understood.
We also get a beautiful portrait of 1870s London where new ideas and innovations challenge old beliefs and values. Even Eliza, who is many ways is a groundbreakingly modern woman, an act model for nude portraits, an actress on the Palmyra stage, refusing to be molly-cuddled and treated like a fragile flower just because she's a woman, has fears about her voice being recorder, or stolen, by Heinrich Bayer and his Lucie. It is a time of change, and the people of the novel feels the changes both with anticipation and trepidation.
This novel will wrap you up in its beauty and illusions, bring Wonder to your life and remind you why you believe in magic. Simply stunning.
Please check out the book trailer below for a teazer: