An excellent premise, but the story lacks magic.


Illusionists in Victorian England take center stage in Thomas’ latest romance (Constance, 2013, etc.).

Devil Wix is more ambitious than his fellow entertainers and wants to do more than eke out a hand-to-mouth existence. The captivating showman dreams of managing his own theatrical company and is willing to go to almost any lengths to achieve his goal. Following a chance encounter, Devil teams up with resourceful dwarf Carlo Bonomi, and the act thrives when the partners present a gory illusion each evening at the run-down Palmyra Theater in London's East End. Soon, the pair ally themselves with Heinrich, a strange Swiss inventor obsessed with automata; Jasper, a wax sculptor and childhood friend who’s privy to Devil’s darkest memory; and art student/life model Eliza, an aspiring actress whose kindness and steely determination bind the diverse and often contentious group together. Eliza falls in love with Devil, much to Jasper’s disappointment, but Devil’s not used to dealing with a woman who demands respect. Outwitting his opponent in a card game, Devil gains ownership of the Palmyra and directs his efforts toward making the venue the foremost entertainment hub in the East End. As he discovers the formidable costs of refurbishing the theater and attracting a fickle public, Devil borrows money for renovations and publicity, auditions new acts to keep the show fresh and pays scant attention to the dangerous mental state of one member of the troupe. Thomas enthusiastically explores a unique subject and skillfully creates the sights, atmosphere and sensations of British theater during this era; but with each melodramatic event, the plot becomes wispier and wispier until it finally vanishes into thin air. Predictably, relationships, attitudes and the courses of lives change before the story takes one final gasp, but by then, even die-hard fans may find themselves struggling to get through the drawn-out tale.

An excellent premise, but the story lacks magic.

Pub Date: June 26, 2014

ISBN: 978-1-4683-0990-4

Page Count: 480

Publisher: Overlook

Review Posted Online: May 21, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 1, 2014

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A first novel, this is also a first person account of Scout's (Jean Louise) recall of the years that led to the ending of a mystery, the breaking of her brother Jem's elbow, the death of her father's enemy — and the close of childhood years. A widower, Atticus raises his children with legal dispassion and paternal intelligence, and is ably abetted by Calpurnia, the colored cook, while the Alabama town of Maycomb, in the 1930's, remains aloof to their divergence from its tribal patterns. Scout and Jem, with their summer-time companion, Dill, find their paths free from interference — but not from dangers; their curiosity about the imprisoned Boo, whose miserable past is incorporated in their play, results in a tentative friendliness; their fears of Atticus' lack of distinction is dissipated when he shoots a mad dog; his defense of a Negro accused of raping a white girl, Mayella Ewell, is followed with avid interest and turns the rabble whites against him. Scout is the means of averting an attack on Atticus but when he loses the case it is Boo who saves Jem and Scout by killing Mayella's father when he attempts to murder them. The shadows of a beginning for black-white understanding, the persistent fight that Scout carries on against school, Jem's emergence into adulthood, Calpurnia's quiet power, and all the incidents touching on the children's "growing outward" have an attractive starchiness that keeps this southern picture pert and provocative. There is much advance interest in this book; it has been selected by the Literary Guild and Reader's Digest; it should win many friends.

Pub Date: July 11, 1960

ISBN: 0060935464

Page Count: 323

Publisher: Lippincott

Review Posted Online: Oct. 7, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 1960

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The phrase “tour de force” could have been invented for this audacious novel.

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Four men who meet as college roommates move to New York and spend the next three decades gaining renown in their professions—as an architect, painter, actor and lawyer—and struggling with demons in their intertwined personal lives.

Yanagihara (The People in the Trees, 2013) takes the still-bold leap of writing about characters who don’t share her background; in addition to being male, JB is African-American, Malcolm has a black father and white mother, Willem is white, and “Jude’s race was undetermined”—deserted at birth, he was raised in a monastery and had an unspeakably traumatic childhood that’s revealed slowly over the course of the book. Two of them are gay, one straight and one bisexual. There isn’t a single significant female character, and for a long novel, there isn’t much plot. There aren’t even many markers of what’s happening in the outside world; Jude moves to a loft in SoHo as a young man, but we don’t see the neighborhood change from gritty artists’ enclave to glitzy tourist destination. What we get instead is an intensely interior look at the friends’ psyches and relationships, and it’s utterly enthralling. The four men think about work and creativity and success and failure; they cook for each other, compete with each other and jostle for each other’s affection. JB bases his entire artistic career on painting portraits of his friends, while Malcolm takes care of them by designing their apartments and houses. When Jude, as an adult, is adopted by his favorite Harvard law professor, his friends join him for Thanksgiving in Cambridge every year. And when Willem becomes a movie star, they all bask in his glow. Eventually, the tone darkens and the story narrows to focus on Jude as the pain of his past cuts deep into his carefully constructed life.  

The phrase “tour de force” could have been invented for this audacious novel.

Pub Date: March 10, 2015

ISBN: 978-0-385-53925-8

Page Count: 720

Publisher: Doubleday

Review Posted Online: Dec. 22, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 2015

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