Cover Image: Illusion


Pub Date:   |   Archive Date:

Member Reviews

Great thrilling novel which kept me turning the pages, would highly recommend to others. Brilliant writing, plot and characters.
Was this review helpful?
Thank you Netgalley for sending me a copy of this book to review honestly.

While I mainly read the High Fantasy genre, I do love to shake thinks up with a period fantasy, I haven't read a book with elements of magic, Illusion, secrets and danger set in Victorian England. The story is set in the late 19th century and centres around the character Tom, a successful product of the dismal workhouses. tom is a pianist and teaches his craft to young ladies while looking after his sick mother. Tom's mysterious friend Walter returns from a travelling voyage to the East  and seems to turn Tom's life completely around Walter suggests Tom aid him in his magic acts. 

I found Tom to be a relatively bland character and he seemed to really only be there to act as Tamara's Love interest. I found Tamara to be a breath of fresh air to the story and it was because of her I really engaged with it. Tamara is an heiress who seems doomed to marry the awful Cecil Hearst. Cecil is your typical villainous character he is intelligent, violent and abusive. Here is where Tamara truly blooms, she shows the reader that she is more than just the princess living with the beast she shows a true inner strength and resilience and resists the horrible punishments and treatments inflicted by her husband.

Overall I found this book to have good and bad points for example at one point the author goes off on a tangent about Walter's parents before returning to the main story but overall it was an enjoyable mystery. I liked that there were lots of twists and turns so I wasn't able to guess what was going to happen which I enjoyed . I enjoyed the description of Victorian England. I do think this book departed slightly from my usual 'magic' taste but I did enjoy the read even if it was slightly different to what I usually enjoy. Overall I found it to be somewhat of a 'feel-good' book where things all turn out ok in the end.  I gave the book three stars because it wasn't quite what I was expecting but I am glad I read it.
Was this review helpful?
Both strange and surreal but oddly addictive I found that I couldn’t put this book down. Having said that I’m unsure as to whether I would read another like it.
Was this review helpful?
Thank you to Netgalley, the Publisher and the author for the opportunity to read this book in return for my honest review and opinion.

This was an intriguing book.  It starts in 1873, with Tom Winter, a pianist who has been down on his luck, but is slowly starting to get his life on track; he has a job, a girlfriend Sarah, who he doesn't love but cares deeply for and she helps with his sick mother, Molly.  Tom then runs into his oldest and best friend, Walter Balanchine, who is mysterious and magical.  With Walter by his side, Tom's life is brighter and fuller. Walter draws Tom into his illusion act, and that's where things start to get interesting; Walter has a dark haired boy, Kayan with him to help him with his magic act and of course my favorite partner in the act of illusion is Sinbad, the panther.  The first part of the book is told from Tom's perspective and is kind of boring in places, but only because it laying out the story and then leads us to the climactic ending of the first part, where Tom meets Tamara and things will never be the same.

Part two of the book is told from Tamara's viewpoint and this is where the book picked up for me.  I was enthralled, poor Tamara who was being forced by her mother to marry the cruel, vile, beast Cecil Hearst.  Why was her mother so intent on her marrying such a man; what did he have over her, what ever could the reason be, was her mother just as cruel?  Tamara's nightmare life with the cruel Cecil is tempered only by Cecil's chronically ill brother, Daniel.  Together they try to concoct a plan to save themselves.  Things don't work out as they planned and by the end of part two, poor Tamara is in worse shape then ever but we start to see her personality more and she begins to see that she is stronger than she thought.

Part three of the book is told from Walter's perspective and it was very interesting, this is where we learn some of his history and how he came to be in the workhouse with poor Tom when he was just a boy.  This part of the book puts all our pieces together and the full extent of the story is shared with us.  It was an enjoyable read, with unique and interesting storylines and I really liked the ending.

Overall, this was a great book.  It was a little slow in the beginning but makes up for it quite quickly and the characters were enjoyable and vivid.  I will definitely be reading more books by this author.
Was this review helpful?
When i read the synopsis i thought different kind a story. More magic and illusion. But i turned out different. I really enjoyed it though. I liked the characters. I really love Sinbad. If you like 1800 London that is really great book. Atmosphere is amazing.
Was this review helpful?
Illusion follows the adventures of Walter Balanchine, an enigmatic magician / healer recently returned from the East with a young protegee. He encounters his childhood friend, Tom Winter, and they find notoriety in entertaining the upper classes with elaborate illusions. At one of his performances, Tom encounters and becomes enamored on the beautiful Tamara Huntingdon, doomed to marry against her will. The lovers endure hardship and hopelessness before Balanchine weaves his spells to grant them their happy ending.

I enjoyed the character developments and dynamics of the story, even though at times they perilously teetered towards the stereotypical melodrama of a Gothic novel. The overall pacing and structure was well done, with the section focused on Tamara's doomed marriage feeling claustrophobic (though there was never a doubt of if she would escape her abusive husband, but when and how it would occur). Walter Balanchine is a complex protagonist, using his seemingly innate powers to heal and help, while searching for answers of his own origins, having been abandoned as a child.

I look forward to his future adventures, or perhaps tales of his time in the East.
Was this review helpful?
Thankyou to NetGalley, Endeavour Media and Stephanie Emma's for the opportunity to read an advanced readers copy of Illusion.
I was drawn to this book by the cover initially. I thought it was absolutely beautiful. After reading the description, I jumped at the chance to read this book. I was so glad when I  received my copy.
I  loved it. 
The storyline was well thought out and written.  The characters were engaging  and the setting was magical.  Such a beautifully written and engrossing story.
Definitely well worth a read
Was this review helpful?
Walter Balanchine is an enigma . Such a gripping mystery with the added bonus of magic/illusion. I enjoyed this book by Stephanie Elmas. The characters were really fleshed out and the story came together in a way the kept you turning the page. I look forward to other offerings from this author.
Was this review helpful?
In the late 19th Century, the mysterious Walter Balanchine is seen as a magician, with his clever slight of hand. There are so many secrets, and so much danger, for him and his friends.

I received a free copy from Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.

I wasn't really sure what I expected from this, and I'm still not entirely sure!
It's an Historical drama, with suspense and discovery. There's friendship, and the bizarre family you find yourself with, as you pick up people through life.

It starts with Tom, he's a product of the workhouses, and he not only survived, he's started doing reasonably well for himself. He is a pianist, teaching young ladies to play, and looking after his ill mother.
When his oldest and dearest friend Walter returns from travelling, Tom knows that his life could go in any direction. Walter has that wonderful effect of creating chaos, and always seeming like it was planned.

We follow Tom, as by chance he meets Tamara, an heiress who is set to marry a hideous man, and needs to be rescued.

The first section of the book, when Tom is our central character is quite slow and dull compared to the rest of the story. He's the blandest character, and seems to be there to fill the role of Tamara'a love interest; and to be Walter's "normal" friend, which allows the reader to see behind (some of) the tricks.
Honestly, I didn't really like Tom's actions either. He leads along poor Sally (the woman that cares for his ailing ma, and is in love with him), but has no intention of marrying her. <spoiler>And when his first plan to save Tamara from marrying Hearst fails, he does <i>nothing</i>. He lets the wedding go ahead. He lets the violent marriage continue for months. And when she's later in London, he makes no effort to do anything to show he still loves her and he hasn't abandoned her.
Yes, Walter knows best, but Walter can act cool and logical because he has no connections to this girl.
What about Tom? He's supposed to be in love with her?!</spoiler> 

The second section really starts to shine. It follows Tamara, as she is forced to marry Cecil Hearst, and live in his cold, unwelcoming house.
Cecil is a fascinating character. He's abusive and violent and smart; but there's more to him and his punishments than you might expect from a Historical villain. As Tamara copes with him, her character becomes more defined. She is more than just a pretty face, she has a quiet strength, as she resists her husband's attempts to destroy her sanity.

Things take a tangent in the third section, as it focuses on Walter's history, and the parents he never knew. This disrupts the flow of the book, but it is still very interesting.

This was a book with high and low points, but overall it was an enjoyable mystery.
Was this review helpful?
As the case with most books with me, the first thing that caught my eye for this particular one was the book cover. Done in gorgeous peacock blue background with a chain hung with some interesting looking charms on it, it looked absolutely stunning and extremely mysterious. Next, I read the synopsis which proclaimed the book to be historical fiction, another tick in the correct box for me. 

While the synopsis and the cover would point to the story being about Walter Balanchine, this is really the story of Tom Winter and the innumerable sufferings that he must endure in the pursuit of true love. Tom and Walter were childhood friends from their days in the workhouse, and meet after the span of a few years at the beginning of the novel. It is obvious from the beginning that Tom looks up to Walter as his savior and angel of sort’s in this friendship, while Walter feels responsible for Tom, his family and his interests much in the way of a father or older brother. Whatever the description one may attribute to their relationship, it is obvious that both of them share a deep and strong bond.

Tom falls in love with the fiancé of a psychopath and what follows are a series of events that can only spring from a situation like this. There were times when I believed that the heroine of the piece would play poor Tom false and fall for Walter instead, but thankfully that never happened.

The story is sad and does little to give any kind of hope for the budding romance of these two protagonists, but for putting your entire faith and trust in Walter. Walter tends to move around in the shadows and although he is present throughout the book either in person or in someone’s thoughts, he never really grabs the center stage himself. It’s almost as if he is the puppeteer handling the strings of those around him and taking them all through the intricate and delicate dance of life.

The characters were an almost sorry lot, living their lives in absolute squalor and poverty. Yet, they struggle on in ways they know best. Throw a psychopath in the mix and things get just that much more interesting. There is a general air of melancholy throughout the book which can become a bit overwhelming at times and take away from the nuances of the story. For me, the whole story appeared to take place in a fog or mist and gray mornings and wet nights. This feeling tends to put one in the mind of bad endings with a constant threat of tragedy looming in a story. Makes for very stressful reading for me. 

I certainly liked the book for its plot twists and its story taking some surprising backflips from what one would expect to be the easy way out for the author. Just when you expect that the story to come to a happy ending, it takes a tragic or frustrating turn. Which obviously makes for great reading! The story of Walter is told in bits and pieces and, while tied up prettily in the end, still seems like there are a lot of points that remain to be clarified. It feels as if this book may actually be the beginning of a series, as the ending seems actually the start of another journey for the main character.

So, why with all these excellent points did I not absolutely fall for this book, is a question I have been ruminating about for a few days now? I think it was first of all because of the all pervading sad and melancholy atmosphere of the novel. There are stretches of the story that seem to drag along interminably. And out of all the characters, with their interesting backgrounds and histories and ongoing adventures, the only ones that I fell in love with were the panther, the child in the end and the family of Walter’s apprentice, which is not a very good sign when one cannot feel any empathy for any of the main characters. However, these may not be issues at all for most other readers and are not meant to deter the historically inclined reader to not give this novel a well-deserved go.
Was this review helpful?
My thanks to NetGalley and Endeavour Media for a review copy of this book. 

I requested this one because the combination of Victorian England and magic was one that sounded exciting—something like Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell, perhaps. This story opens with Tom Winter, a music teacher who gives the daughters of the well-to-do piano lessons, being cheated when purchasing some herrings for supper at the docks. He notices some shadows, a flicker of something, only to find that his old friend, Walter Balanchine has returned to London after three years in the East, and proposes to start performing magic acts based on what he’s learnt over this time, in which Tom is to assist him. Accompanying him back from the East are a young boy Kayan, and a black panther, Sinbad. But the unique and intriguing Walter is not merely an illusionist but also a healer, who wants to help those in distress, even if he isn’t a doctor in the traditional sense. Tom manages to find him an engagement, and they soon become a rage in town. In one of their ‘magic’ shows Tom notices the beautiful, young Tamara Huntingdon, and their lives take an unexpected turn. Tamara is to be married to the much older and sinister Cecil Hearst, and appeals to Tom to rescue her from this fate. Tom of course, turns to Walter and so begins their unexpected adventure. 

This was a book I thoroughly enjoyed reading. Though I must say, when starting this book, while I was enjoyed the elements of the magic/illusion shows, and Walter’s character, I wasn’t sure where all of it was leading or what direction the story would take. However, once Tamara enters the plot, and more specifically, when she asks Tom for help and Walter begins to formulate his plan, I really began to get drawn into the story, not wanting to put it down. Even then, I couldn’t really tell where everything was headed or how things would turn out, and there were plenty of turns the plot took, plenty of little mysteries and revelations, nearly all the way to the end that I didn’t see coming and made it all the more interesting to read. 

The characters are in some ways black and white, not so much grey about them―yet they are all believable. Tom, Walter, Sally, Kayan, and Tamara are each very likeable, each with their own distinct personality―one feels for them and wants things to turn out well for them. Cecil Hearst is menacing, creepy, sadistic, and all else in the same direction―someone who likes to show his power, to be in control, with no concern really of what he is doing and who he is doing it to. He was generally well done, with his equally intimidating henchmen, but there were points at which I felt may be not as convinced by his power. And Walter, I can’t not comment on him. Probably the most unique character in the book, both in appearance and in his traits, and one whose magic soon begins to affect the reader as well—at first, I wasn’t sure if (because of his unusual traits) he’d turn out magical but unsettling, but soon enough one realises, he is someone who really wants to help people, and who will ultimately come through for them, someone one begins to have faith in.

The settings too were an element I enjoyed, particularly Victorian London, where we see both the homes and lives of the wealthy, and of those struggling for survival. And this is yet another book where there is magic and Prague in one! And of course, there is also the ‘magic’ in the book which also took an unexpected turn. While there is the usual magic of marvellous illusions, hypnosis, and tricks, the real magic of the book turned out to be very different—more the kind that real life can sometimes hold, where things fall into place, and eventually all turns out right! While this was a book where one faces real life in all its ‘not so pretty’ forms, the overall impression it leaves you with at the end is of a ‘feel good’ book, where things will be right after all. Four and a half stars.
Was this review helpful?
This book was very different from what I expected and I loved that it took different turns with each section. From the beginning chapters I had not expected that we would end up with multiple points of view and it added a wonderful layer to the book. We begin our story from Tom Winter’s point of view and things are a bit confusing at first. When I started the book I wasn’t sure I would like it because I didn’t feel any connection to Tom or what was going on his life,when Walter shows up things get a bit stranger. In the process though we start to learn more about our characters and that connection carried me through the first third of the book. The last 2/3 of the book were wonderful and I kept reading eagerly to see how the problems would be solved. 

This book is a story about the magic of friendship and the magic of Walter Balanchine. The magical elements in the book are wonderfully balanced between the proclaimed magic which is tricks that are explained and the true magic of what Walter is able to do for those he cares about. The book deals with heavy issues, including abandonment, sexual assault, and domestic violence. If those are things you cannot read about comfortably, I wouldn’t recommend this particular book. Overall, the book was enjoyable and I am glad I read it, but there is so much going on (which admittedly does all connect in the conclusion) that it was a bit chaotic and by the end there were so many people to care about that I felt it took away from some of the main points. The ending seemed to leave an option for further stories of Walter and if that happens, I do think I would read them in hopes of checking in on the characters we met in Illusion.

Thank you NetGalley for an advanced copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.
Was this review helpful?
Stephanie Elmas is a wonderful world builder. From the very start she captures the essence of life in London in the late 1800’s. Starting a bit slowly, this story quickly enthralls you and is hard to put down. With magic, mystery,captivating characters, and a hateful villain, I found this to be an overall fun read and fans of magic and historical fiction will enjoy this.

*I received this book for free from the publisher via Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.*
Was this review helpful?
Confession: I requested this book pretty much based off the cover alone. Whoever said you can’t judge a book by its cover has probably never stared down hundreds of thousands of books, wondering what to read next.

I have to say, I was disappointed. The book is in 4 parts, and if I wasn’t determined to finish in order to write the promised review... I’d have put it down in part 1. Now, I am all for flowery language (I freaking love Dickens and his way of describing the world) but... sometimes the words get in the way. And that’s definitely how this book started out. It was slow, awkward, and I wasn’t feeling at all invested in the characters.

Then part 2 rolled around and I actually thought I might enjoy the book. It felt as if the writing changed, I was certainly more invested.

But then we moved into parts 3 and 4 and it all went to hell.

The quick review is that I definitely would have put this book down in part 1 had I not been reviewing it. And that while part 2 is quite good imho, it’s not enough to make up for the rest of it.

More on why I didn’t like it after the cut, there will be spoilers.

Now, I love an instant attraction romance as much as the next sappy reader. But in this case it goes Beyond. The main love interests hardly have any interaction at all. Literally he sees her across the room and that’s it, he’s a goner. And her, she hardly speaks to him at all and she’s head over heels? That’d be fine... if they actually got some development, flesh it out a little so that when they get their happily ever after we can see it. But... they don’t. And that’s only the start of my gripes with this book.

In today’s day and age there is no excuse for a modern author to use g*psies as a plot device. And the only reason I’ve used that word is because that is what she calls them repeated in the book. Hereafter I will call them Roma, although her racist description of them is in perfect alignment with the slur. A dirty, thieving people who are not to be trusted.

I was very bothered by their inclusion, because it seemed such a strange throwaway that lent absolutely nothing to the plot. Except that these “backward people” held up a strange (white) man as their king? There’s a whole lot of imagery and symbolism there that I can’t even begin to unpack. The Roma deserve better, and the author should have known better.

Now, if we can put all of that aside (I mean we can’t, it’s gross, but there’s more to talk about... ugh)... it felt like the author wasn’t sure what sort of story she wanted to tell. There is a Lot going on here. We have the mysterious Walter and his origins plot, the forced romance plot, the other forced “romance” plot, the bad guy and his mental illnesses, the mother and her origins, the other mother and her illness...

Eventually they do all start to tie together. Which was obvious pretty much from the beginning as its the only way to include all of these wackadoodle plot lines in the same book. As I said, in part 2, where we start to see them come together, I was starting to enjoy myself. The author did a terrible job writing from Tom’s perspective, but Tamara’s was interesting. Really, the writing was like night and day different.

But, semi interesting plots and how they tie together or not... the terrible start to the book, and the random racism near the end make this book a definite pass for me.
Was this review helpful?
Illusion was a captivating tale of historical magical realism. The characters and their respective situations immediately caught my interest, and held it until the end. I did find myself a little disconcerted about a third through, with the disappearance of one of the main characters, but all soon became clear. Elmas wove an intriguing spell of mystery throughout the story that always kept me turning the page to find out more. Overall, a fun, quick read for fans of magical realism and historical fiction with a touch of the fantastical.
Was this review helpful?
1800's London is one of my favorite time periods to read/watch about. Whether fiction or not its one of the greatest time periods to also write about.
Tamara and Walter are such great characters! 
It starts out nice and slow and before long you're hooked and can't put it down. If the blurb looks even the slightest bit interesting to you, I would definitely recommend you check it out.
Was this review helpful?
This books starts slow but once you're involved you cannot put it down. 
It leads in a Victorian world that is full of magic and realistic at the same time.
I loved the characters that are well written and the vilains that are quite interesting.
It was a very enjoyable read and a fascinating trip.
I never read any other book by this writer and I'm surely going to to follow her writing career.
Many thanks to Endeavour Media and Netgalley for this ARC
Was this review helpful?
A really good story, richly imagined and well written. A gothic novel that really brought to life the darker side of London.

The distinction between magic and illusion is often blurred. Mystery, conspiracy and hope weave throughout making the book difficult to put down. Yet it is placed in such a way that it is never rushed. Each character is well drawn, no clichés or flat faces, even the minor characters. 

The only drawback to the novel is as a reader we never quite feel that sense that all is lost. One moment where we can't see how it could possibly all get resolved would have made this book perfect. Some of the major reveals are heavily hinted at too so you don't get the sense of shock that was intended. However it was still brilliantly written and very entertaining.

I'd give 4.5 stars if I could. I really enjoyed it. Recommended for readers who like gothic novels, romance and unusual thrillers.
Was this review helpful?
I grew quite enthralled by this unassuming story, which unfolded slowly and effortlessly. The writing is elegant and simple, for an evocative tale, rather old fashioned in a good kind of way.

The characters are all endearing or atrocious, with interesting villains, and if the story tells about some sinister deeds, the writer never insists with atrocious descriptions and details - the facts speak by themselves.

The magic is very limited in this story, and always veiled by illusions, so you mustn't hope for a fantasy world. For myself I loved the atmosphere, which strongly reminded me, for all the dissimilitudes of the stories, of "A little princess" by Frances Hodgson Burnett.

The main quality of this rather classical story is its smoothness and reading pleasure. Another one is in an original main character, who's never the narrator, always lurking in the periphery like a benevolent djinni and whose physique is so unusual that it verges on monstrosity. How many writers would have resisted to picture him as a formidable figure of paramount masculinity? Stephanie Elmas did so, picturing a wonderful caring character, resourceful  mysterious and generous, but also quite bizarre...

The narrative is quite colourful too, with hints of exoticity,  as a very unusual pet. And if the male main character suffers from instalove (he's probably a fantastic juge of character at first sight ^-^), the reader will be happy to understand that the object of his love behaves in a much more credible way in the circumstances she meets. I particularly appreciated how she reacts while suffering from a horrible situation, with courage and resilience, but without any improbable and out of character reckless temerity...

The denouement is satisfying, told in a mysterious and vaporous atmosphere...

A lovely tale, romantic and riveting, which doesn't elude the realities of dreadful situations, but doesn't dwell at length on them either, keeping a feel good vibe, letting the reader confident that the end would satisfying, positive and, even, happy.
Was this review helpful?
I received an ARC from the publisher via NetGalley - thank  you! All opinions are my own.

Illusion invites you to a magical, atmospheric, moody Victorian London. Vivid characters, elements of mystery and - well, illusion - weave quite an enchanting story that I really enjoyed. It's my first book by Stephanie Elmas, but it certainly won't be my last.
Was this review helpful?