Title: Magic Mansion
Author: Jordan Castillo Price
Publisher: JCP Books
Pages/Word Count: 350 Pages
At a Glance: John and Ricardo’s romance lives up to the word romantic in every way.
Reviewed By: Lisa
Blurb: 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, 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….
Review: As a longtime fan of Jordan Castillo Price’s work, I’m not sure why I never managed to squeeze Magic Mansion into my overburdened TBR pile. Whatever the reason, it makes no sense that I waited so long to read this book. Why? Because not only is it an entertaining and well-spun story, but in the realms of the author’s prolific body of work, if there’s ever a book she’s penned that I could label sweet (yes, I said sweet and JCP in the same paragraph), as well as accessible to a wider reading audience, it’s this one.
First of all, let’s touch upon the fact that Jordan Castillo Price has never met what I would call a run-of-the-mill plot, which is why her books are always such a diverse experience. Magic Mansion is as close to a contemporary romance as I’ve ever read from this author, and is a story inspired by something I couldn’t know (or, truthfully, care) less about—reality television. Or, perhaps that should be “reality” television, because what goes on in front of the cameras and is then broadcast to the TV viewing public is rarely reality, barely truthful, and I love the way this juxtaposes the concept of Magic Mansion and television’s “magical realism”—the magic of television, indeed. This novel’s concept may be borrowed from pop culture, but the rest is uniquely the author’s.
Magic Mansion unites an eclectic group of magicians and then pits them against each other in competition for a cool quarter of a million dollars in prize money. But here’s the brilliant part: while yes, I loathe reality television, in general and on principle, did I pick favorites and root for “my magician” to show me the money? Yes. Yes, I did. It was sort of ridiculous how invested I became in the strategies and team building and individual liking and disliking of these characters, so I can see on the most innate level how people get sucked into these competitive television shows—it’s survival of the fittest. When I started reading this novel, I had no way of foreseeing how much I’d love the interactive feel of it, and can say in all honesty that I ended up hoping the plot would include a murder mystery element too, because I wouldn’t have cried if Kevin Kazan had met with a little…accident. But that’s not this book, so it also gave me a villain to root against, which was ultimately satisfying. A vicious and crippling toe stubbing wouldn’t have gone amiss for him, though, just sayin’.
Amidst all the impressive resources Jordan Castillo Price must have tapped into in order to come up with the various challenges the contestants competed in—not to mention being well versed in what lies behind the veil of illusion that magic is—we are given Professor Topaz and Ricardo the Magnificent, two men who allowed me to so completely indulge in my love of a good May/December romance. John and Ricardo are just beautiful together, really, because time and experience have honed them into men it was easy to fall madly for. Or, to be more specific, it’s their maturity I fell madly for, something that’s so often lacking in the romance genre and is something that, as I get older, I find I look for in the characters I choose to read about. So, John and Ricardo and the love that evolves between them was only enhanced by the fact they both are at ages that allow them a rich past that has shaped them into realistic people in this unreal setting.
Against the backdrop of the competition, the contrast of the growing bond between Ricardo and John is so perfect. John becomes less Professor Topaz to Ricardo, less the magician Ricardo has hero-worshiped for more than a decade, and more John, the man Ricardo hopes to spend time with when taping of the show is over. Can I just say, I loved John? I loved John. I loved John. He’s stoic and refined and sweet and has lived a life that’s provided its share of heartache which, when revealed, makes him such a completely embraceable character. I also have to add here that I loved that his and Ricardo’s relationship wasn’t reduced to a pointed focus on their age difference, though. Ricardo and John are far from a cliché, and I appreciated the matter-of-fact way their difference in age was handled.
While Magic Mansion isn’t speculative fiction, there is still an aspect of the storyline that keeps it from being strictly mundane. I can’t say what that is because I don’t want to spoil the book, but the way it influenced John and Ricardo and some of the other magicians’ actions and interactions with each other was, I thought, pretty magical in and of itself. It added another layer to the plot and characters to make them that much more intriguing, and made the story just that little bit extraordinary.
John and Ricardo’s romance lives up to the word romantic in every way—the way they put each other before everything else, the way they refused to play the game the show attempted to make them play, and the way they refused to hide their sexuality and their feelings for each other in spite of the fishbowl existence of the TV show’s setting. I’ll end here by saying that if you’ve never read Jordan Castillo Price before because you didn’t feel you had an “in” to her style of storytelling, Magic Mansion could very well be your gateway book.
You can buy Magic Mansion here: