Illusions by Madeline J. Reynolds

Illusions by Madeline J. Reynolds
My rating: 4 out 5 stars

Digital ARC provided by Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.

Thomas Pendelton was born into wealth and prestige. He has a sensitive heart and wants nothing more than to write poetry. Instead, he is apprenticing for Neville Wighton the Great, an aging magician who has become somewhat crazed over the years in his pursuit of fame. With Thomas’ help, Wighton is about to premiere the greatest illusion seen by man, for Thomas possesses something no other illusionist has: real magic.

Many in the theatrical world are desperate to learn Wighton’s big secret. One such magician is Paolo il Magnifico. His apprentice, Saverio Moretti, is also seeking the answer. He has a scheme to get close to Wighton by seducing Thomas but seduction turns to real feelings.

Now the young men must struggle to keep the secret of their romance, as well as the secret of Thomas’ magic, as both of these things could cost Thomas his life. Through journal entries, posters, letters, and other documents, ILLUSIONS is a story of love, betrayal, and of course, magic.

Aaaah this was a hard one to write a review for! 

The pitch for this book is absolutely incredible. The apprentices of rival magicians fall in love, but one is real magic and the other is (unknowingly) trying to uncover their secret. And it’s set in Victorian London and the world we are put into is so lush?? 

To be honest I don’t read a lot of historical fiction, and it was a real treat to see this world (but with a lil twist because is it me if it’s not a SFF book). I really liked how the world they were in, and the views on both homosexuality and magic played into their story. I don’t like the way they were treated because of it, but it was a nuanced look at the times, and it really developed the stakes well. 

The characters themselves I adore. Thomas was a soft, sweet magic boy and honestly does anything sound more like my taste in characters than that? I loved how rounded he was, though. He was a soft sweet little thing who wanted to be a poet, and with his soft secret little crush on Sav and his growing understanding of his feelings. But I also loved watching him develop a spine! I loved that he became stronger, and started taking control of his own life. 

Saverio was a babe!! I loved his arc so much! I mean, I did like so much of him at the start — his confidence, his ambition, and his love of fashion. But I liked seeing him soften, and to kinda realise the flaws in that sort of ambition. I liked the way his relationship with Thomas developed, and how he balanced that with the fact that he was both lying to (knowingly) and about to destroy Thomas (unknowingly). 

The one problem I had with this book was the formatting. I’m not the biggest fan of journal entries as a book format. They can be a neat way to see into a character’s head, but they take away a lot of the tension and intimacy of scenes. Especially in bigger emotional scenes, or scenes with shock reveals, seeing them recounted after the fact takes away the emotional punch. Especially as they were often given as a “X happened. Here’s the story.” It didn’t kill the story, because the characters and their romance and the plot in general were all strong enough to carry that. But it did make it a little harder to get into at first. 

I would absolutely recommend this book, especially to fans of Victorian settings or magic in the real world. It was honestly such a lovely read, and though I have my complaints about the journal format, it definitely made for a quick, easy read! I’m definitely going to keep my eye out for more from this author!

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