Harry Houdni’s one-time apprentice holds fantastic secrets about the greatest illusionist in the world. But someone wants to claim them . . . or silence her before she can reveal them on her own.
Boston, 1926. Jenny “Wren” Lockhart is a bold eccentric—even for a female vaudevillian. As notorious for her inherited wealth and gentleman’s dress as she is for her unsavory upbringing in the back halls of a vaudeville theater, Wren lives in a world that challenges all manner of conventions.
In the months following Houdini’s death, Wren is drawn into a web of mystery surrounding a spiritualist by the name of Horace Stapleton, a man defamed by Houdini’s ardent debunking of fraudulent mystics in the years leading up to his death. But in a public illusion that goes terribly wrong, one man is dead and another stands charged with his murder. Though he’s known as one of her teacher’s greatest critics, Wren must decide to become the one thing she never wanted to be: Stapleton’s defender.
Forced to team up with the newly formed FBI, Wren races against time and an unknown enemy, all to prove the innocence of a hated man. In a world of illusion, of the vaudeville halls that showcase the flamboyant and the strange, Wren’s carefully constructed world threatens to collapse around her. Layered with mystery, illusion, and the artistry of the Jazz Age’s bygone vaudeville era, The Illusionist’s Apprentice is a journey through love and loss and the underpinnings of faith on each life’s stage.
Kristy Cambron doesn't write like anyone else I know in the historical fiction genre. Her stories and words flow like a song. They move and flow with the characters. Cambron doesn't force the story; the story appears to just cascade from her heart. With her newest release The Illusionist's Apprentice, I still feel the same way. I really love the story and the cover is one of my favorite covers in a long time.
Like always, Cambron uses dual timelines to tell her story. We start out with 1927, which is present day for the characters, but there are have flashbacks to 1916, 1924, and 1907. The first flashback doesn't occur until chapter six, so for the first couple of chapters, Cambron is setting up the mystery that she wants the entire novel to center around. The flashbacks bring the attention of what she wants us to know about Wren's past. For instance, her relationship with her uncle and mother. Plus, how she met Houdini, Irina, and Amberley. Her writing is concise and clear. It flows smoothly with the research about the power of illusion versus the power of magic. The story sings with the illusion of a great story.
While the flashbacks are important, the characters make the story. For Wren, the heroine, she is a witty and confident woman who adorns numerous masks, not allowing anyone to truly see inside and know her past or the lady she has become. Wren has kept her illusionist job to guard her heart and her life. In walks Elliot Matthews, the hero, who is a FBI officer for the Boston Bureau. He is a closed book too. There isn't much to learn about him for a long time. Cambron doesn't allow him to open up either. We learn more about Wren than him. Wren and Elliott mutually agree to solve the murder of Victor Peale without exposing illusionists. Their relationship starts out a little rough, but then as they spend more time together, trying to solve what happens, both sides aloud their walls to crumble and allow the other one inside to their darkest secrets. Cambron is a wonderful master at using illustrations in the story to signal the numerous metaphors like Wren allowing Elliot to come into her hidden garden behind the walled library when she has finally learned to trust him and wants to explore her feelings for him.
While the story is original and unpredictable, the mystery could have used a little work; I wanted more. This was Cambron's first attempt at including a mystery in her historical novel and while the ending read like a mystery, the moments leading up to the big climatic moment read like a more historical novel with something hiding in the background. For instance, when bullets are flying, the target doesn't run away instantly and is taken to safety where it isn't a concern anymore. When someone is in a questioning room and someone shoves a note under the door saying run and the character is standing out a ledge outside the window, don't stop and have a conversation before running to safety. To me, it seemed like Cambron wanted a mystery, but she didn't push the limits as far as a mystery will allow her. She isn't the only historical writer to do this. Every historical writer that I have read that promises a mystery doesn't deliver what I'm hoping the story is. But . . . the story does move at a nice pace and has a nice mystery ending to it.
Even though the mystery was a little off for me, I did enjoy The Illusionist's Apprentice with its unique storyline and wonderful characters. Kristy Cambron wove together a tale about Houdini's apprentice, inviting me into a timeless mystery about betrayal and living a life without pretending. I highly recommend this book to fans of Cambron and of Jazz Age stories.
I received a complimentary copy of Kristy Cambron's The Illusionist's Apprentice from Thomas Nelson Publishing, and the opinions stated are all my own.
My Rating: 4 out of 5 stars
Do you enjoy reading historical fiction? Is there a certain era that speaks to you? When? What era will you not read at all?