I love stories about magic and magicians. (My bio offers a clue why…) One of my favorite novels is Susanna Clarke’s Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrel (now a TV series), and one of my favorite films is The Prestige (based on the book by Christopher Priest). However, it’s rare for magician books to feature women in any capacity beyond love interest or assistant.
Which is why it was such a treat to discover The Magician’s Lie, by Greer Macallister, earlier this year. Set during the turn of the 19th century, at the height of vaudeville, The Magician’s Lie is the story of Ada Taylor (stage name Amazing Arden), whose provocative “sawing a man in half” illusion comes back to haunt her. Part love story, part behind-the-velvet-curtain look at classic stage magic, and part murder mystery, it’s a terrific summer read.
After finishing The Magician’s Lie, I was determined to track down more books about lady magicians, so I cast a locator spell. Here are 5 more fabulous female prestidigitators who are certain to delight and mesmerize you:
Celia Bowen (The Night Circus, by Erin Morgenstern)
An enchantingly evocative debut about Le Cirque des Reves (the Circus of Dreams), a magical traveling production that “arrives without warning” and opens only at night. Against this backdrop we follow the travails of Celia Bowen and Marco Alisdair, two rival magicians forced to play a complex game of one-upmanship by their warring supernatural guardians. So layered is Morgenstern’s prose, you’ll believe you’re actually visiting Le Cirque yourself, somewhere beyond the realm of imagination.
Sonea (The Magicians’ Guild, by Trudi Canavan)
It’s nice to have the Chosen One be a girl from time to time, yes? In this fantasy trilogy, Sonea is a young slum dweller in the city of Imardin, where the educated, greedy, elite members of the Magicians’ Guild periodically “purge” the unfortunate commoners they rule over. On learning she, too, has immense magical power—untapped and dangerous—she first flees the Guild, then eventually becomes an apprentice in their ranks.
Ceony Twill (The Paper Magician Series, by Charlie N. Holmberg)
Fans of fantasy and steampunk (circa late Victorian England) will devour this story about 19-year-old Ceony, a confident graduate of the Praff School for the Magically Inclined. Each magician has the ability to manipulate a particular type of object, but despite our heroine’s affinity for metal, Ceony is chosen to apprentice for a paper magician, which frustrates her no end. And when a mage from her instructor’s past unleashes her powers in a deadly attack, Ceony is tested to the limit. Good news: the third book in the trilogy comes out July 21!
Julia (The Magician King, by Lev Grossman)
In the second book of Grossman’s adult fantasy trilogy starring young magician Quentin Coldwater, Quentin’s high school friend and former crush, Julia, earns a co-lead credit. Unlike the comparatively pampered students of Brakebills magic college, “[Julia’s] magic had sharp, jagged edges on it that had never been filed down.” Having been tested by Brakebills, and having her memory of it (mostly) erased after failing the entrance exam, Julia becomes obsessed with recapturing the magic she’s lost. Self-taught as a “hedge witch,” she works herself to the bone and eventually teams up with other magical outcasts to perform ever greater (and more terrifying) feats of magic.
Nadia Caldani (Spellcaster, by Claudia Gray)
In this contemporary paranormal YA series with multiple POVs, heroine Nadia, who is descended from witches but hasn’t yet completed her training, casts spells by conjuring up memories of intense emotions. As a result, her “magic” is pure poetry. Having moved to the oppressively gloomy New England town of Captive’s Sound after the death of her mother, Nadia feels compelled to help her new friend Mateo, who’s cursed with knowledge of the future. Along with a third classmate, Nadia and Mateo combine their abilities to fend off Elizabeth, a complex villain determined to destroy Captive’s Sound.