MAGIC WORDS by Gerald Kolpan


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A book that takes real historical characters, mixes magic with the winning of the West and conjures an absorbing tale.

In 1867, Compars Herrmann and his brother Alexander are the two most renowned illusionists in the world. Compars, the elder, performs in Europe, while Alexander goes to perform in America, sawing women in half and pulling rabbits from hats. Meanwhile, their younger cousin Julius Meyer is kidnapped in Nebraska by Ponca Indians. The Ponca spare his life but make him a slave, and he quickly learns their language and customs, becoming their interpreter. Before his capture, he’d been involved with the beautiful prostitute Lady-Jane Little Feather, who works in an Omaha brothel but burns it down, killing her cheating employer and others before high-tailing it back to the Ponca. U.S. Army soldiers—bluecoats—are in the middle of destroying the Indian tribes. Julius, a Jew, easily relates to the hostile treatment the Indians are receiving. In time, he falls in love with Prairie Flower, posing the prospect of personal harm and heartbreak. The novel covers a broad tableau that mixes murder, intrigue, sibling rivalry, personal grudges, magic and even romance—though not the magic of romance. The small Ponca tribe suffers an angry split—one group goes off to fight the bluecoats to the death, while the other quietly endures whites’ betrayal and a Trail of Tears. There is plenty of trickery in this novel: stealing ideas from siblings, transforming a beautiful Indian woman into an “Arabian princess,” promising Indian tribes they will never have to move from their homes. Kolpan weaves all the threads together and shows the ultimate fate of each character. He portrays a transformative period for America, one full of tragedy and illusion.

A well-researched and entertaining novel filled with colorful characters and imagination. It’s a good, fun read.

Pub Date: June 15th, 2012
ISBN: 978-1-60598-369-1
Page count: 416pp
Publisher: Pegasus
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1st, 2012


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