Review: The Magician’s Lie

When I did a quick google of ‘history of magic’, what struck me was: (1) every page was dominated by erstwhile male magicians and (2) I hadn’t heard of any of them (apart from Harry Houdini).  By turning a spotlight on travelling magicians at the turn of the twentieth century America, and then by making the central protagonist a young woman, The Magician’s Lie by Greer Macallister has crafted a unique story.

The opening chapter of this book is absorbing.  We quickly learn there has been a murder and we know that our heroine – the Amazing Arden, the famous female illusionist – is implicated. A local police officer brings her into custody and as he interrogates Arden over the course of one long night, we learn her backstory up to the point of the alleged murder of her husband.

The book provides some insight into this quite niche aspect of America’s cultural history, but at its heart The Magician’s Lie is a romance. If you like plot-driven novels, where the heroine is flawed but likeable, the historical context is a gentle backdrop rather than a character in it’s own right (like say A Kiss From Mr Fitzgerald, rather than All The Light We Cannot See), the ending has an element of suspense but isn’t a huge surprise, the villain is sufficiently disturbing, and the romance takes a few nervous dips but eventually rights itself – this is the book for you.

The book has sold really well in the US, and I suspect its sales will continue to grow now it’s being distributed more widely. It’s also been optioned for a film, which if done well, could be a visual feast a la Moulin Rouge.

The Magician’s Lie would suit an easy read on a beach if you’re inclined to reside in the northern hemisphere, or, curled up on the couch, if you’re inhabiting somewhere south of the equator. Either option sounds pretty good to me.


I received a free copy of The Magician’s Lie from Legend Press, in exchange for an honest review.

‘It’s important to retain the humanity’: The Song of the Stork

Those who are fans of Charlie Brooker, and the Black Mirror series in particular, will know immediately which episode I’m referring to when I say the one about the ‘roaches’ (‘Men Against Fire‘).   I found this episode deeply troubling, not because it canvasses the potential brutality of the future, but because it evokes the present (the war on ‘terror’) and the immediate past – the holocaust.

Ary soldier holding machine gun
On the hunt in Black Mirror‘s ‘Men Against Fire’

This Black Mirror episode reverberated in my head as I read Stephan Collishaw‘s The Song of the Stork. There seemed many parallels between the book and Men Against Fire, sharing similar imagery (forests, ruined houses) and themes (brutality, empathy, survival).

Collishaw’s novel is set in the Suwalke Forest at the Polish/ Lithuanian border in the 1940s, just as Nazi Germany is rolling back the Russian Army.  As the German soldiers advance into this territory, they bring with them their genocidal assignment. Yael is at the centre of this story – a 15 year old Jewish girl who flukishly escapes the slaughter of her village by seeking sanctuary in the surrounding forest.  The novel traces her survival in the forest, her refuge with the village eccentric, Aleksei, and her collaboration with the Jewish partisans resisting the German advance.

The Song of the Stork is not a light read, but given it’s subject matter, it’s not bleak – and this is an important point of distinction between it and Black Mirror. The war and its atrocities are an evident backdrop but aren’t despairingly overwhelming.  There are splinters of hope, as well as moments of redemption. I spoke with Stephan about how he managed to steer this course, maintaining this balance between grim history and hope.