The Glass Magician by Caroline Stevermer (book review).

April 8, 2020 | By | Reply More

There are three types of ‘human’: Solitaires, Traders, and Sylvestri. The same but different. Sylvestri are not quite elves. They have a connection to the natural world, the patience of the old forest and disdain for other humans. Traders, well, trade and not just money, though they do do that and extremely well. Traders can Trade their form from human into an animal. The animal that is the other half of their soul. Solitaires are just normal humans trying to get by.

The year is 1905. The setting is New York’s ‘gilded age’. Thalia Cutler is a stage magician, like her father before her, travelling the vaudeville circuit with her trained doves and grass snake. Thalia is a Solitaire. A run of the mill human. No special powers or anything special to help her through life. All she has is her own skills and friends. Having the wealth and connections of a Trader might make life easier, because millions of dollars can smooth out much of life’s problems, but Thalia is happy with her life. She is proud to stand on her own two feet and confident in her skills.

Then a performance goes awry and she shifts form. An impossibility. Her parents were Solitaires, therefore she must be a Solitaire. Right? Before Thalia can even begin to unravel what this transformation means, a rival stage magician is murdered on stage in a trick gone awry and she is a prime suspect.

There is a sub-genre known as the ‘cosy mystery’ where a woman, often independent and single, find themselves embroiled in a murder as an amateur sleuth. A small, intimate, community is explored and the violent passions of sex and murder are depicted as being somewhat removed from the protagonist. ‘The Glass Magician’ is, at its heart, a cosy mystery. It just happens to be set in a fantastical world.

Thalia’s world as a stage magician is quite small. Every description of her life on the stage shows the character’s love of and long acquaintance with, the world of grease paint and stage props. Stevermer does not depict Thalia’s life with starry eyes. Hours of long practice to maintain her skills and keep her dexterity. The trials and odours of travelling with live birds. The unsavoury reputation gained by a woman earning her keep as an entertainer. Stevermer puts all of these into the fabric of her novel without losing the abiding love her heroine has for her life.

Thalia’s world grows wider as she comes to terms with her Trader powers and much more expensive. The lifestyle of the Trader class is a world away from that of ordinary Solitaires and full of dangers Thalia had never considered. Yet despite the increase in threat level, Thalia, perhaps through sheer force of will, is somehow removed from the violence and danger.

I really enjoyed this book. I love the era. I love the setting. Thalia is a relatable protagonist to me in her sheer pragmatism in the face of adversity. She is all about practical solutions to the problem at hand. She is independent and determined to make her own way in life in the way she chooses. She is observant and her gaze drew me into her world smoothly.

I liked this book. I am angry at this book. I enjoyed this world and want to dive in and discover more about the Sylvestri and the Traders. But, mostly, I want to discover more about Thalia as she unravels the mystery of her family history. The immediate plots were all tied up tight in a satisfactory manner but I am not satisfied. Which is how they have already hooked me into reading the sequels, which I am sure there will be at least one.

The ‘Elemental Masters’ series by Mercedes Lackey has a similar ‘cosy’ feel and turn of the century setting. Unlike Lackey’s series, which is set in analogue of our reality with magic hiding around the edges, ‘The Glass Magician’ is definitely set in a different world that in some ways parallels our own. I hope to explore the world of ‘The Glass Magician’ and to continue following the story of Thalia Cutler in future novels.

LK Richardson

March 2020

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(pub: TOR. 288 page hardback. Price: $26.99 (US). ISBN: 978-0-76533-504-3)

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Category: Books, Scifi

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