I reached the end of this book expecting to find out that most of the story and characters were fictional, but Kolpan’s epilogue says that many characters were real people. That drove me to search the internet in order to learn more: my favorite aspect of historical fiction.
In the 1860s, Julius Meyer immigrates to the United States with his magician cousin, Alex. Julius is destined to work in his brother’s store in Omaha, Nebraska. But not long after he arrives, he is kidnapped by Ponca Indians and treated as their slave. Eventually he wins their respect, learns their language well enough to act as a trusted interpreter, and woos the chief’s daughter. Meanwhile, Alex Herrmann establishes himself as the country’s most famous magician. He takes on a Ponca stage assistant, Lady-Jane Little Feather, billing her as the Egyptian Princess Noor. When they create a sensation in London, Alex invites Adelaide Scarsez to be a chaperone for Noor. But he’s unaware that Adelaide is acting as a spy for Alex’s fellow-magician brother Compars, who suspects Alex of stealing Compars’s special tricks.
Readers interested in Native American, show business, and Western history will find plenty of plot elements to hold their attention. Some degree of concentration is required, as the cast of characters is huge, and Kolpan doesn’t hesitate to introduce new ones as late as the final chapters. The author made me think, especially in the passages where parallels are drawn between the U.S. government’s treatment of the Native Americans, and many European governments’ conduct towards Jews. My bottom line: I liked the book, yet was ultimately disappointed in the deus ex machina ending.