Title: Magic Mansion
Author: Jordan Castillo Price
Cover Artist: Jordan Castillo Price
Publisher: JCP Books
Genre: Contemporary Gay Fiction/Romance with a touch of Paranormal
Length: app. Novel /117000 words
Rating: 5+ stars out of 5, DIK
A guest review by Sirius
Summary: I hope you will enjoy watching this reality show which JCP created for us as much as I did
Professor Topaz is tired of fending off advice that he should retire in Vegas where magicians his age have an easier time finding work.
Ricardo Hart’s career has sunk so low, he’s resorted to shaking his moneymaker at bachelorette parties.
But there’s a casting call for a new reality show called Magic Mansion that could change everything for these two gay stage magicians, one recovering from the loss of his partner, and the other awe-struck by the presence of his idol. Each is poised for a critical second chance: at fame, and at love.
Who will win? Step into the Mansion, and find out….
I did not think that Jordan Castillo Price would be able to write a book which I would enjoy more than her Starving Years, but then this book came along and I was swept off my feet. I remember how fascinated I was by reality TV few years ago when Survivor et al. appeared on our TV screens. I eventually got tired of those shows pretty quickly when I realized how not real (how ironic!) and staged most of it was. At the same time I still enjoy shows where it is clear that no matter how staged some things could be, contestants still win mostly because of their skills (Top Chef now is probably my absolute favorite right now).
But the reality TV which JCP came up with in this book would absolutely be my favorite show, if it ever came alive on my home TV. As you can see from the blurb, the contestants are magicians and I was expecting them to demonstrate their talents with magic tricks during the show. Well, they did, but what I really did not expect (and I really don’t know why am I surprised when this writer constantly surprises me when taking seemingly familiar themes in the new direction) is that there is a theme of True Magic running along throughout the book. Let’s just say that some of these guys do much more than tricks and leave it at that, otherwise it will become spoilerish talk.
Actually, no, let me say something else. I am a huge fan of magic in all its showings in different fantasy/paranormal books and I love when the writer explains very well how magic works in her world. I thought that in this book, where True Magic is very important (but does not take that much of a page space) although she left some room for ambiguity and interpretation, with just a few examples JCP was very clear. As a result, I was not confused at all when I finished (unlike some other fantasy books where I was left scratching my head as to what the magic can and cannot do even after devoting much more page space to it).
If you at some point of your life liked and still like reality shows, I can pretty much guarantee that you will enjoy this book. The challenges are dynamic and fun, and I was definitely glued to the pages and felt as if I am watching the show on my TV. I could never predict the winner and I loved all the surprises along the way. I understand that this novel was also serialized in her newsletter and the readers were voting off the contestants, but I did not subscribe to her newsletter till very recently, so I was not reading it as serial and that’s not my preferable way to read the book anyway.
Of course no matter how fascinating the reality show concept was for me, I would have never been able to enjoy the book if I had not liked the characters, and I liked them all. I loved the main couple, Ricardo and John, but everybody else shined, no matter how secondary they were. I always appreciate her female characters, but I think in this one she exceeded all my expectations with women contestants on the show. I did not know whom I liked more – Sue, Bev, Muriel or Jia Lee. They were all so real, so human and while definitely not perfect, still a lot of fun to read about. I also really enjoyed the producer Marlene and just in general what she did with the producers – she did not make them out to be cartoonish and evil like, which I also kind of expected and I was happy that it did not happen.
Every participant of the show, every employee of the show even who had the smallest part were interesting and memorable, they were not perfect, they were not horrible, even the so-called villain of the show had a touch of humanity in him. It was very enjoyable.
And finally we come to our romantic couple, Ricardo and John. There is a reason why I am talking about them so late in the review. I loved the developing romance between them and how masterfully the writer mixed it up with the competition. I thought it enriched the book significantly, but while it would have been a different book without the romance, I thought the book would have stood on its own just fine without it. I mean this as a compliment; as I said, I thought the romance was an organic part of the book, but I thought the story had enough meat to be developed without a romantic element if the author would have so chosen. Having said that, I am glad she did not choose to go that route, as much as I would have enjoyed seeing them as competitors and friends, I thought the development of their relationship was brilliantly done. It is very romantic, but don’t look for many sex scenes (I think full scenes are 1.5, or I guess you can say two, and the story is very long). I loved reading how Ricardo’s crush on his idol slowly changes into falling in love with the real person as he gets to know the real John. I really liked how John’s attraction, while very strong, is also initially full of his own insecurities. Yes, I know how those “romances” on TV are never real, but I believed in Ricardo and John, believed even though I am a very tough sell on the couples with such big age difference, but here it worked for me perfectly.
As you can see everything worked for me perfectly in this book. Very highly recommended.