The Vanishing Trick

The Vanishing Trick was written by Jenni Spangler and first published in 2020. It is a fantasy story set in Victorian England, focusing on three young children who are cursed by a cruel and mysterious woman. The novel stands alone, so you do not have to read any of the author’s other work to fully appreciate it.

When Leander first encounters Madame Pinchbeck, he thinks that it might be an opportunity to make a bit of money. He has been living hand-to-mouth ever since his mother died, and the strange woman seems oddly eager to buy his locket. What Leander does not realise is that Madame Pinchbeck possesses a sinister power. She has the ability to transform any lidded object into a cabinet – and bind a child to that cabinet forever.

Through this trade, Leander gains the power to travel in and out of his locket at will but it comes at a terrible price. He is forced to remain close to Madame Pinchbeck at all times. If he wanders too far away – or anything if anything was to happen to her – he would fade away into nothing. Along with two other trapped children – Charlotte and Felix – Leander is put to work for his new master. Madame Pinchbeck is a spirit medium and her peculiar magic is perfect for tricking people into believing that their deceased loved ones have returned.

However, it is not long before the children notice that Pinchbeck is starting to weaken. The strain of having three cabinets is too much for her to take and it won’t be long before she is forced choose which children she wishes to keep. Leander and his new friends realise that they must find a way to break her spell before one of them is forced to vanish forever…

While The Vanishing Trick had an interesting premise, it was unfortunately not the novel that I was hoping it would be. Still, as always, let’s begin by taking a look at the things that I did really enjoy about this story.

The setting of The Vanishing Trick is really fascinating. Although we did not see a great deal of Victorian England in this tale, I really did enjoy the focus on how Victorian seances worked. Although there is magic at work in this novel, The Vanishing Trick is not a ghost story. The story explores what tricks spirit mediums employed in order to fool their patrons, from mechanisms that made knocking sounds to phosphorescent paint.

I also felt that Madame Pinchbeck’s magic was incredibly unique and interesting. The way that the “vanishing trick” works is very clearly explained, as a large chunk of the early chapters is devoted to teaching Leander exactly how to disappear into his cabinet, as well the downsides and weaknesses of his new spectral form.

Yet, sadly, The Vanishing Trick just did not draw me in. As fascinating as the magic system was, there just was not enough world-building to this novel beyond this. While the trick itself is explained on a superficial level, a lot of the background to it is skipped over. Why does Madame Pinchbeck only seem to possess this very specific power? How did she come to gain this ability? These are things that the reader never discovers. I also felt that the way in which the curse was broken was somewhat problematic. Although this becomes obvious to the reader quite early in the tale, the protagonists are surprisingly slow on the uptake. When they do eventually figure this out during the climax, it is more by accident than anything else.

The Vanishing Trick also had some issues with its pacing. Part of this was because, despite the fact that the book was written in third person, it still had multiple narrative focuses. This meant that the perspective frequently flipped between Leander, Charlotte and Felix, sometimes multiple times within the same chapter. Due to this, the novel did contain a lot of repetition and this in turn bogged down its pacing.

I did also feel that the book could have done with a bit of a tighter edit. There were a few instances were things happened for no reason, which did affect the way that the story flowed. For example, in one scene Leander attempts to steel Pinchbeck’s pocket book but chickens out at the last minute. This doesn’t serve a lot of purpose as it neither acts as character development for Leander, nor as a plot point. The characters come into possession of this book several chapters later anyway. In another scene, the protagonists manage to find a secret hiding place but are then forced to backtrack collect the key to it from their home. This just felt rather clumsy and could certainly have been edited to better streamline the novel.

The climax of The Vanishing Trick was also a little bit disappointing. While the pacing of the novel did improve dramatically over the final fifty pages, the final confrontation with Madame Pinchbeck was oddly lacking in tension. However, following on from this, the story did at least end well. The final couple of chapters did a fantastic job of tying up loose ends. It is clear that this is the end of Leander’s adventures and Spangler did a brilliant job of wrapping things up on a really positive note.

In terms of characterisation, The Vanishing Trick was a lot stronger. The three protagonists were all well-fleshed out and showed remarkably different personalities. While I could not really understand why they all seemed to be so loyal to Pinchbeck (Felix, in particular, seems oddly trusting of someone he knows to be a child-killer), all three were still very likeable. I certainly did not want to see any of them come to harm.

Yet, at the same time, I did feel that there was room for improvement. While Leander was set up to the primary protagonist, he ultimately felt like the least important character in the story. His skills as a thief did not seem to be as impressive as they were initially advertised, and his naivety was utterly frustrating at times. Charlotte also had her problems. While it quickly became apparent why Pinchbeck had kept her, she did not seem to possess useful skills in the way that Felix and Leander did, so therefore did not contribute as much to the tale.

While Madame Pinchbeck was an imposing and manipulative villain, I did also feel as though could have done with a bit more fleshing out. While we do get to learn of her motivations as the story progresses, we still learned nothing about her as a person. Ultimately, I was left wondering where her powers came from, and if she was even human at all.

Anyhow, I think that about covers everything. I had high hopes for The Vanishing Trick but it was ultimately not one of my favourites. While the setting and magic system were unique, the novel had some issues with its pacing and characters. Still, I am curious to see what Spangler will write next.

The Vanishing Trick can be purchased as a Paperback, eBook and Audio Book from Amazon.co.uk

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© Kim Dyer and Arkham Reviews, 2019. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Kim Dyer and Arkham Reviews with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

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