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. Volume VIII Number 14 . . . . March 15, 2002
The setting is Paris, the "city of entertainment" in the late 1800s. Magical shows are enthusiastically received. But the Gazette's "conjuring reporter," A.S. Bessette, casts doubt on the ability of the aging Great Zandini to perform. The world's greatest magician decides to mount a new show, spotlighting his son as his successor. Unfortunately, Theodore has no interest in magic. His younger sister, Fanny, does, but her talent goes unrecognized by their father. Disguised as a boy, she tries out magic tricks in the streets to hype the show. Her plan backfires when the reporter suggests a challenge - the mysterious "newcomer" versus the Great Zandini, pitting Fanny against her father. Not only is her talent revealed, but so is a surprise from the family's past.
Told from the point of view of a determined female protagonist, Fanny, the well-paced plot has plenty of conflict. The discord that opens the story - the family at odds with Bessette - embroils the characters in mystery and suspense which is maintained until the end when the real identity of the reporter (a long-lost uncle with no love for magic) comes to light. There is also conflict with in the family: Theodore's dreams do not match the desires of his father for his future; Fanny's sense of filial obedience struggles with her love of the art of magic. Fanny's character is shaped by events; her frustration over Zandini's unwillingness to contradict the customs of the time and acknowledge her abilities forces her to take matters into her own hands to prove her point. Any doubt as to the credibility of her disguise when facing her own father in a duel of magic is erased if the reader keeps in mind this is a story of illusions that "make the impossible seem possible. Fanny's reward will satisfy readers who believe one must be true to oneself.
This book is well-suited as a read-aloud. The author has chosen a style of language befitting the era, somewhat formal in diction, but one which evokes appropriate emotions. Apart from the more sober issues, there are humorous scenes which give readers a taste of the magic that made the fictional Zandini great, all the while preserving the illusions.
Gillian Richardson is a former teacher-librarian and a published writer of children's fiction and nonfiction, living in BC.
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Copyright © the Manitoba Library Association. Reproduction for personal use is permitted only if this copyright notice is maintained. Any other reproduction is prohibited without permission.