I held him tightly against me. He was neither cold nor warm. One of his outstretched hands, clenched in fear, was touching the side of my face. The relief of finding him at last overwhelmed everything – everything except the fear of this place. I wanted to turn around so that I could head back towards the exit, but to do so involved moving backwards out of the gangway. I held my past life in my arms, but I no longer knew what might be standing behind me.
There was something there, though.
Wow. This is one of the books where not having seen the film and knowing very little about the plot – I only knew there was something about two magicians – really paid off.
And in order to preserve the whole journey of discovery for others, I’m not going to say much about the plot or twists at all other than I loved the way that Priest seemed to have used real biographical notes of some of the great Victorian conjurers and re-assembled them into the lives of the two fictional protagonists.
The Victorian feel to this novel was phenomenal (without so much as a single mention of the blasted London fog!), I kept checking the dates of the diary entries mentioned throughout the book against the publication dates of the Sherlock Holmes stories. Both stories could have merged seamlessly! Not that there was any connection to the Holmes stories. The only tenuous connection I had to pick up on (because I am reading a biography of Arthur Conan Doyle at the moment) was how Priest describes the rise of spiritualism and how conjurers featured in both the promotion of spiritualism and the debunking of frauds.
I loved how Priest also managed to merge several genres – historical fiction, steampunk, horror, Gothic, mystery – and still kept a style that was quite literary and created so many layers.
The plot itself was layered and everything we learn at the start of the book is then taken apart when re-read the events from a different perspective. The plot thickens as the old cliche says. But it isn’t only the plot. The more we learn about the relationship of the two magicians, the more we get to see why they do what they do, and just when we think there is a point when Priest forces the crisis to a solution, the moral complexity of the plot unfolds.
Some deeds cast long shadows.
I was thrown into a fit of despair and self-disgust by my attempt on Borden’s life. I knew I had betrayed myself, betrayed my prestige (who was aware of none of my actions), betrayed Julia, my children, my father’s name, every friend I had known. If ever I needed proof that my feud with Borden was an appalling mistake, at last I had it. Nothing we had done to each other in the past could justify such a descent into brutality.
In a state of wretchedness and apathy I returned to the room I had rented, thinking there was no more I could do with my life. I had nothing more for which to live.