Review by Elizabeth C. Bunce
Caroline Stevermer’s acclaimed historical fantasy work now includes a tale of turn-of-the-twentieth century New York City and its magical elite. In The Glass Magician a stage magician discovers there’s much more to her identity—and her talents—than she ever realized.
Thalia Cutler is a natural-born stage magician. Trained in the craft by her late father and his lifelong friend, now her manager, Thalia and her tricks entertain crowds on the East Coast vaudeville circuit. But this is not exactly the 1905 East Coast of our world; this is an alternate historical America where people with real magic live alongside the Solitaires, or mundane folk. Well, not quite alongside: the wealthy Traders are the elite and powerful upper crust of society, barely deigning to acknowledge the Solitaires; and the solemn Silvestri keep to themselves, literally communing with nature.
But one night a mishap on stage nearly kills Thalia, and in one fell swoop, she loses her job, her livelihood, her identity, and her best friend. For it turns out that Thalia is not the Solitaire stage magician she’s always believed, but a Trader harboring an unknown and dangerous power. And until Thalia learns to master her magical nature, she’ll put everyone she cares about at risk.
Thalia’s dual nature is not the only problem she faces. Her professional rival—the man who ruined her career—is murdered onstage during his act, and Thalia’s beloved friend and manager stands accused of the crime. With no job, no family, and a terrifying new enemy stalking her every move, Thalia must somehow identify the real culprit and save her friend. But will it be real magic, or stage trickery, that saves the day?
The Glass Magician suffers a bit from an odd title whose meaning is not revealed until very late in the book (and doesn’t feel especially on point even then) and misleading flap copy. Don’t expect the Astors and Vanderbilts—this Gilded Age New York has an entirely different crop of social climbers, and they are much more interesting. Some patience is required with the worldbuilding—the magical caste system is never explained, and we really only get a good look at Trader life. But overall this book is a delightful and refreshing mystery with a lively cast and lots—lots—of delicious magic. The Glass Magician is highly recommended for fans of The Silver Shooter and the Minky Woodcock books.