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A GuranChristopher Priest's novel is, indeed, a "prestige."
As he explains early on in the book, every magician's illusion consists of three stages. In the "set-up" stage, the "nature of what is to be attempted is hinted at, or suggested, or explained." We are shown that there is nothing up the magician's sleeve. Of course, he is misdirecting our attention all the while. In the second stage, the magician gives a performance, during which he displays his talents and skills perfected by years of practice. Finally, there is the third stage, "the prestige,"--the effect of the magic. The rabbit pulled miraculously from an empty hat, for instance, is the prestige of that trick.
Priest proves to be a master magician and his words are a heady incantation that persuade, compel, and bedazzle the reader.
The Prestige's set-up at first appears to be a modern day man's search for some supernatural or psychic sibling connection that cannot, in the face of logic, exist. The story then turns to the first-person journal of Alfred Borden, a late-nineteenth-century illusionist. We are now sure that the gimmick here must be this monstrous rivalry between the ancestors of the present-day characters. But not all is revealed; only one Victorian magician's story is at first presented. Still, we think we may have figured out the trick....
Presto! Chango! Priest's incredible performance continues to astound us as the second magician's tale takes the stage. Ladies and gentleman, it was all done with mirrors; let me reveal the real reason you are assembled here tonight....
Abracadabra! By the time Priest has mesmerized you past reason, and presented the second magician's, Rupert Angier, narrative, the pay-off comes. The prestige is revealed. You are left gasping in wonderment at the magic in which you have so willingly participated and the cunning of this literary legerdemain.
There is no way a review can prepare the reader for Priest's glorious return to the world of imaginative fiction. Any attempt at explanation would only make the reviewer a party in the set-up of this wondrous illusion. The dark complexities of this novel can be savored only by taking a front-row seat with book in hand and beholding its marvels.
The Prestige was recently awarded the World Fantasy Convention's award for Best Novel. It previously won the British James Tait Black Memorial Award and was nominated for the Arthur C. Clarke Award. It deserves not only these accolades, but more.