The Bottle Conjuror
In the first historical fantasy novel of The Bottle Conjuror series, authors John Kachuba and Jack Gagliardo try to portray a cross-section of London society in the reign of George II. The king’s son and his aristocratic rival, the precariously middle-class owner of the Haymarket Theatre, and a working-class girl with a talent as a pickpocket populate the novel alongside Stefan, the aspiring conjuror. He is a Romani youth born with a twisted leg and yet the one who aspires to perform the trick of disappearing into a wine bottle. This yearning makes him—and the young working-class girl who befriends him as they both assist a faux-magician—vulnerable to being pawns in the designs of the higher-class characters.
Ultimately, these schemes are the most interesting part of The Bottle Conjuror. Nearly every character is self-interested—some comically and ineptly so, some with cool competence, and some even with hints of revenge. Readers may enjoy rooting against them. The more innocent characters are, however, mostly annoyingly naive to a degree that breaks belief.
Despite a heavy reliance on outright stating the characters’ emotions and a tendency to make them sound implausibly naive one minute and then implausibly wise the next, the novel does give the reader a sense of Georgian London, and a plausible potential backstory to one of the great unexplained incidents of the time. For readers interested in the atmosphere of that period, the novel is worth a look. Yet for deeper characterization that is better handled, look elsewhere.