This is a book I would recommend for anyone who is keen on historical fiction, especially if they enjoy being totally immersed not so much in an historical period as in a person’s life. One of the accusations levelled at Arden, the undoubted heroine of the novel, is that she is a hypnotist, and this novel almost hypnotises with its strong narrative. It is rare that a book drags the reader in so successfully as this, desperate to find out what happens next, or that the underlying dread of a particular character turning up feels so real. This writer keeps everyone on their toes, with twists and turns throughout that are so unpredictable. Arden is so human in that she refuses to take the easy line, refuses to conform to what is expected of her by both the reader and the other characters in the book. Not that this is a plodding progress of a book; the element of fantasy, magic, is carefully controlled on the edge of what is real. One or two of the people and events are real people, real happenings that have been skilfully brought to life. The book is a story of a life, recounted in difficult circumstances, to an unreliable listener who has his own agenda, and it is all the stronger as it must convince, change a mind.
Arden, Ada, Vivi and all the other names the leading character goes by is telling her story with perfect recall to a confused man who has his own preoccupations. He has received life changing news that day, and is trying to come to terms with it, when he comes across a woman who he has just witnessed undertaking a spectacular magical show. Now a man is dead, she has turned up apparently on the run, and he decides he must act. He detains her in his office, a difficult thing to achieve as he suspects she is quite capable of escaping. To deny the charge against her, to escape the inevitable trial and death penalty, she wants to talk to him. He knows that she is a woman with unique powers which he does not understand, but becomes drawn in, enveloped in her story.
As he is to point out, her tale of her life is so complete, with recalled conversations and events being so perfectly described, that it is suspicious. Nevertheless, it becomes a tale of determination, of love, of disappointment all against such a realistic set of circumstances that the remarkable almost becomes commonplace. This is a story of a woman with drive and determination way beyond her time, who meets with help and obsessive desire. The sounds, sights and smells of her story seem real and engrossing, and the logic of her actions startling yet logical. A travelling show feels so amazing that the acts feel as if performed for the reader. I certainly learnt a lot about the illusions and basic magical acts that I had never expected.
This is a fascinating book with so much to enjoy. Not just a life story; an historical tale, a fantasy, a murder mystery all combine to make an absorbing tale of romance and peril. I would perhaps not have chosen it had it not been a copy sent for review, but it is a very surprising, gripping read.
One of the great things about writing is a book blog is a bit like being in a good book group; you end up reading books that you would not necessary choose to buy. I certainly enjoyed it!