This debut YA novel sees a stage magician’s apprentice struggle with secrets as a handsome rogue enters his life.
It is 1898, and 16-year-old Londoner Thomas Pendleton longs to attend Oxford and write poetry. Instead, at the behest of his parents, he’s become an apprentice to magician Neville Wighton the Great. The two have mastered an illusion in which Neville leaps out into the audience, only to vanish in midair and reappear in a private box above. This shocking feat has gained the attention of Paolo il Magnifico, another illusionist, who’s astounded that the veteran Neville has achieved a late-career bloom. Paolo sends his own rakish assistant, 19-year-old Saverio Moretti, to learn the trick’s secret. Sav encounters Thomas in Manchester Square and questions “the way he stared, the way he fumbled for words.” Indeed, Thomas is attracted to the good-looking young man, though for the sake of his family’s finances, he’s been courting wealthy Amelia Ashdown. The romantically experienced Sav pursues the naive teen, pretending to be a tailor’s apprentice and reporting on Neville’s act to Paolo. Sav doesn’t intend to fall in love—nor can he imagine that Thomas possesses hidden powers over movement and light. Can either young man escape the deceitful webs spun by the adults in their lives? Struck through with late-Victorian charm, Reynolds’ novel is an intimate combination of romance and fantasy. Presented as diary entries, chapters alternate between the viewpoints of Thomas and Sav, and deft portraiture reveals Neville as a cruel master (His smile “looked...wrong, like a puzzle piece that was forced into a spot where it was not meant to fit”). Amelia, unfortunately, spends much of the narrative in the background, despite her dramatic potential. But the author triumphs elsewhere, convincing readers of Sav’s caddish ways and then immersing them in Thomas’ earnest passion for poetry (he initially recites Shakespearean sonnets). Romance fans should love the emotional seesaw that carries through to a clever final deception, one that brings frightening social realism to this lightly magical tale.
Conniving adults can’t halt first love in this glowing fantasy tale.