Wednesday, January 14, 2015

ARC Review: The Magician's Lie by Greer Macallister

Title: The Magician's Lie
Author: Greer Macallister
Published: January 13, 2015 by Sourcebooks Landmark
(Amazon / Goodreads)

Synopsis: 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.

*** I received an advanced copy of this book from the publisher via Netgalley in exchange for an honest review. This fact has not changed my opinion of the book ***

This was a really hard book to review. There wasn't anything technically bad about it and I did like a lot of things about it, but like a lot of the books I have read recently something just didn't capture me.

It was however a good piece of historical fiction set during one of my favorite periods. The book takes place during the turn of the 20th Century in the United States. It was a time of change and modernization and the author perfectly captured that with a story about a female illusionist trying to make a name for herself on the stage with her own illusions. She is fighting for acceptance and acknowledgement in a male dominated world and doing it by being herself. And like all good Historical Fiction, the book felt incredibly well-researched. I really got the sense what it was like to be a woman on the stage at the time. I also felt like I was getting an insider's view of magic and illusions both of the time and of today. Macallister also did a great job including actual historical events and figures to help establish the world and context of the story. As I fan of Historical Fiction I really did feel a sense of the period while reading The Magician's Lie.

And speaking of the world of this book, what with this being a story about a magician, there was a lot of magic in this book. And I mean this both literally and figuratively. Like a lot of the other books I have been reading lately, The Magician's Lie was full of magical realism. But here it really worked. I'm not sure why it worked so much, I usually like my magic to "go big or go home" but here it was subtle. It added an extra dimension to the story. Plus it kind of made sense. There were some moments where it seemed like a convenient way for resolving something, but on the whole it worked.

But there was a lot of layers to this story. I was reading it as part of my Mystery/Thriller month because the synopsis makes is sound a little bit more hardboiled than a usual fantasy or Historical Fiction. And it was, but the mystery elements too were subtle. There were chapters and sections that were devoted entirely to figuring out the mystery of the book. And the format for that mystery was actually really creative. In the very beginning of the book we are told about a crime the main character is accused of and throughout the book she has to prove her innocence, instead of guilt. This led to a tone that was both atmospheric and suspenseful. I wasn't entirely sure how it was all going to end but I think that was because I was expecting something a little more complicated. But a subtle mystery isn't going to have a huge mindblowing reveal, unfortunately.

And that was another good thing about the story, the characters. The book was full of interesting and complex secondary characters. A few of my favorites included a sinister antagonist that would pop up and cause trouble when you least expected it, a love interest that seriously burned the character a few times, and a great mentor who was just as amazing a female illusionist as the main character. And speaking of the MC, Ada/Arden was also pretty great. She was strong, determined, and intelligent. She was a perfect person to introduce and explain this world. And that was a good thing because the book also had a real coming-of-age story vibe. This was caused mostly by the narrative style, which was interesting and something I'm seeing a lot lately, especially in Historical Fiction. It was about a character telling their history, their story. Based on the title however I sort of viewed Arden as an unreliable narrator, taking everything that she said with a grain of salt. That made it difficult to relate with her, and as much as I liked her I never fully connected.

And yet despite all the things I liked I couldn't entirely connect with the book. Maybe it was because there was just so much going on. This book suffered from a little bit of genre identity crisis, or genre ADD. I love all the different genres that The Magician's Lie utilized and I usually like when all of them are combined but here it didn't work for me. It felt a little bit like it had bit off more than it could chew. It couldn't quite capture my interest because every time I started to like a part of the story, it would change. Or maybe it was the fact after all the build up and anticipation the end just felt a little unfulfilled.

 Now don't get me wrong, it was good, and there was a lot to really like, there was just something I didn't quite love. Maybe if it had stuck to one or two different genres. I think I would have liked it a lot more if it hadn't been so ambitious in that respect.

I give The Magician's Lie by Greer Macallister a 7.5 out of 10

Buy/Borrow/Bypass: Borrow. A good book with a lot of really good things going on including great historical context, magical realism that really worked, and an interesting style of mystery solving. But with so much going on it was hard to connect with the story on the whole. Fans of Historical Fantasy or Magical Realism should check this book out. It would make a great addition to a library haul.

Have you read The Magician's Lie? What did you think? Have you ever read a book that you found a little too complex? Leave me a comment with your thoughts. Thanks for stopping by and HAPPY READING!


  1. I'll definitely be checking this one out! I've recently finished The Night Circus which I loved, and have been on the lookout for other books with a circus/illusion theme. Great review! :)

    1. I hope you enjoy it! I actually haven't read The Night Circus but I've heard great things and it's on my TBR list. If it's similar to this book then I'm even more excited!

  2. Sounds like a good book. I will check that out on NetGalley. :)

    1. It may be too late to get the ARC but it's still worth reading. I hope you get your hands on a copy and enjoy it!