Blog tour: The Grand Illusion by Syd Moore

The Grand Illusion

This post is part of a blog tour organised by Random Things Blog Tours. I received a free copy of the book in return for an honest review.

‘June 1940. As Hitler prepares to invade Britain, a secret office hidden away in Whitehall is catapulted into a frenzy of activity and expansion. Aware of the Nazis’ obsession with the occult, the British Secret Service sets out to exploit this potential weakness in the enemy’s high command.

‘Twenty-two-year-old Daphne Devine is performing on the London stage as assistant to magician Jonty Trevelyan, aka The Grand Mystique, when the secret service calls.

‘Daphne and Jonty find themselves far from the glitz and glamour of the theatre, deep inside the lower levels of Wormwood Scrubs prison. Here they join secret ranks of astrologers, illusionists and other theatre performers co-opted to the war effort.

‘Soon Daphne realises she must risk everything if there is any chance of saving her country…’

The Grand Illusion

In The Grand Illusion, by Syd Moore, magician’s assistant Daphne Devine and her employer Jonty Trevelyan, alongside other performers and practitioners of magic and the dark arts, are tasked with taking advantage of the Nazis’ superstitions in order to head off a potential invasion of Britain.

Daphne and Jonty’s not inconsiderable skills in stagecraft and misdirection will be tested to their limits. They need to put together the most spectacular illusion of their careers to a short, strict deadline, and if anything goes wrong on the night, Daphne will be far from the only one who’s in danger.

I found The Grand Illusion absolutely fascinating. The so-called “Magic Men” were already on my radar thanks to Elly Griffiths’ Brighton Mysteries series, and I loved reading a more detailed account of what this enigmatic unit’s work might have involved.

I was particularly delighted by the scenes where the characters demonstrate to a high-ranking officer and his lackeys just how well they can mislead and discombobulate Nazi spies and invaders through the use of facade, camouflage, and distraction. It was all so clever and surprising!

Of course, the titular main event is the ultimate source of intrigue and wonder.

Moore avoids the specifics of what this is actually going to look like, or require of Daphne, for as long as possible. In the meantime, our heroine consults with occultists who, while fully aware they’re helping put on a show, are nonetheless deadly serious in their beliefs and approach to the job. I couldn’t help but feel a spooky frisson in this suspenseful absence of cold, hard facts.

The contrast between the entertaining demonstration and the high-stakes climax is just one way the author expertly juxtaposes light and dark in this book. As in her Essex Witch Museum series, Moore deploys a great deal of humour without losing sight of what’s at stake.

There are quirky characters, jolly japes, and a hint of romance – but the reality of war is never understated or far from home. Daphne’s Italian mother is interned on the Isle of Man; her uncle is missing, having been on board the SS Arandora Star when it was torpedoed; and she faces genuine threats and dangers.

The book is laced with contemporary documents, which add extra historical flavour as well as reminding us of the Nazis’ simultaneously ridiculous and horrifying beliefs, and that British victory was far from assured at this point in the war.

Above all, though, this is a story of self-discovery. Daphne doesn’t really have any choice but to accept this mission, and isn’t convinced she’s the right person for the job. However, in her darkest hours, she draws on resourcefulness and bravery she didn’t know she had, and I can’t wait to see what use she puts them to next.

The Grand Illusion is fascinating, intriguing, and exciting.

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About Alice Violett

Writer of blogs and short stories, reader of books, player of board games, lover of cats, editor of web content, haver of PhD.

Colchester, UK