Girl in the Shadows by Gwenda Bond


I was waiting in the wings backstage at the Menagerie Hotel and Casino, preparing the equipment or my first stage illusion. Straitjacket, check. Oversized timer and mood music speakers, check. And — most important — transparent coffin, check. As I lay straitjacketed inside it, I’d press a button that would expel all the air in the coffin with a dramatic puff for my audience’s benefit, and then I’d pull off a daring escape.

The coffin might sound morbid, but I wasn’t planning to die in it. I was planning to live.

Forget college or a normal future. I wanted to be a magician: The Miraculous Moira.

Moira Mitchell has only ever wanted one thing: to follow in her father’s footsteps as a stage illusionist. Far from being supportive of her dreams, however, her dad discourages and eventually forbids her from studying magic, insisting that his community is no place for a woman. Determined to make a name for herself regardless, Moira trains in secret, developing ever more daring escapes, and eventually running away to audition for a role with a travelling circus.

But at the audition, Moira is overcome by a weird sensation. She fluffs her routine, something she’s never done, and — even stranger — walks away with the realisation that she’s accidentally done some real magic. She doesn’t get the major gig she was hoping for, but a minor role working the midway is still more of an opportunity than she’s had before, and she’s convinced she can use her time there to show what she’s capable of and work her way through the ranks.

Moira starts every performance with the story of a forgotten female magician, turning her shows — and by association, this book — into an homage to magical women throughout the ages. Although it later becomes clear that Moira’s father was in fact trying to protect her on a personal level, he’s always used her gender as an excuse, and she carries his words with her, determined to prove to him that she can succeed as a woman in a male-dominated field. And on a technical level, she’s certainly up there with the best of them. As she comes to terms with her abilities to do real as well as stage magic, and learns to harness her natural abilities, Moira’s tricks become more daring, more impossible, and more impressive.

The circus community is a welcoming one, and Moira soon has new friends as well as a boyfriend, but it isn’t all plain sailing despite her artistic success. There’s talk of a powerful magical charm hidden somewhere in the circus, which might be dismissed as idle gossip and superstition if not for the fact that something must have awoken Moira’s latent magic. There are dangerous people looking for magic, and when Moira meets her estranged mother for the first time, it becomes clear why her father wanted to keep her away from magic at all costs. If she’s going to survive the summer, Moira is going to have to pull off the biggest illusion of her life.

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