Magic Lessons 

Celia begins to learn magic from her father. Hector’s lessons involve everyday things, and he forces her to use her magic to do menial tasks. Even as he trains her for the challenge, Hector does not answer her questions about it. When one of the doves that Hector uses for his show breaks its wing, Celia attempts to fix it using magic but is unable to. Hector breaks the dove’s neck and tells her that there are different rules for fixing living things. She accuses him of having been able to fix the bird, but he tells her that she wouldn’t have learned anything if he had. Hector repeatedly cuts the tips of Celia’s fingers to force her to heal them and ignores it when she cries.  

Growing up in London, the boy has little contact with the world outside of the townhouse he lives in save for the man in the grey suit who visits for exactly one hour every day. He teaches him through lectures and the boy spends the rest of his time reading and copying passages from books. Unexpectedly, the man in the grey suit takes the boy to France for a week where he visits two magic shows. The first show is that of a parlor magician. The second is Prospero the Enchanter’s show, and the boy is immediately able to identify that he uses real magic. Eventually, the man in the grey suit gives the boy Hector’s ring, which burns into his skin with binding magic. The boy questions what he is bound to and the man in the grey suit replies that it’s to someone he won’t meet for some time.  

Le Bateleur 

The man in the grey suit stops formal lessons with the boy when he comes of age and moves him into a flat. On a walk, the boy, now a man, realizes his notebook is missing from his pocket. He discovers a young woman reading it under an awning. He introduces himself as Marco Alisdair and learns her name is Isobel Martin. Marco asks her out to a café as thanks for finding his notebook. Having recognized the tarot card in his notebook, Isobel shows him the tarot cards she owns. Marco turns the first card on the top of her deck and is amused that it’s Le Bateleur, the Magician. Later, Marco takes her to a secluded area near an alley to demonstrate his magic. He covers her eyes with his hand and when he removes it, the alleyway has been transformed into a snowy glade surrounding an inky black tree where they kiss.  

False Pretenses 

Celia struggles with her father as he transitions from touring as Prospero the Enchanter to using her as a fake spiritual medium. Celia endures chiding and physical abuse at the hands of her father. Once, he breaks her wrist with a heavy paperweight after she uses her magic to fold the papers on his desk. Hector berates her for crying as she heals her wrist. Eventually, Hector and Celia settle in New York. One day, Celia discovers that Hector has made his arm fade away completely. He tells Celia she should not concern herself with what he is doing.  

Meanwhile, Marco tries to teach Isobel to make charms. Marco has Isobel hide when the man in the grey suit comes to the door. He tells Marco that he must interview for a position working for a Monsieur Lefèvre the following day. Marco understands that this will be part of the challenge, but the man in the grey suit tells him that it’s a preliminary maneuver.  

Target Practice 

Chandresh Lefèvre is a theatrical producer upset about a review. His most recent show has been called “almost transcendent,” so he pins the article to a dartboard and throws knives at the word “almost.” The article was placed on his desk by his assistant, Marco. That his show was not truly transcendent infuriates him. 

Darkness and Stars 

The narrator returns to the second person point of view as a long line of circusgoers enters the circus for the first time. Circusgoers push through a black-and-white curtain into a tunnel that appears completely dark at first. The darkness gives way to tiny, starlike lights that line the walls. The empty tunnel is long and maze-like, but it ends with another set of stage curtains. On the other side of the velvety curtains, there is a blindingly bright light. 


The novel weaves together the stories of Celia and Marco to illustrate the way they parallel and contrast one another. “Magic Lessons” is the first chapter in the book with more than one point of view character, focusing on Celia and Marco. Their stories weave back and forth over the span of years with each of them having complementary but entirely different experiences. Both learn magic, but where Celia must do so in the limelight because of her father, Marco learns in almost complete isolation. The effect this has is to show the way that the two characters are integrally interrelated even though they have never met. While the methodologies that Hector and the man in the grey suit use to instruct their students are quite different, both teachers leave the children neglected or abused in some way. Marco’s neglect is more straightforward as he is kept sequestered away from other people and the only person he can talk to is the man in the grey suit. The conversations they have are not discussed in detail, but leave the impression that these are impersonal lectures rather than engaging back and forth interactions. The man in the grey suit never so much as touches Marco, even when binding him with the ring that Hector gave him. While the neglect that Marco experiences is somewhat more apparent than the neglect Celia does, hers has no less of an impact on her. When she is no longer small and cute enough to be an accessory, Hector begins abandoning her and stops lavishing her with the attention. Moreover, Hector physically abuses Celia under the guise of training. He inflicts and ignores her pain, slicing open her fingertips and shattering her hand to challenge her. 

Marco showing Isobel his magic is a major step for him, representing his coming into his own as a magician and as a person. Before this moment, Marco has only done magic in the presence of his teacher, so him meeting someone who is not only interested in magic, but eager to see it represents him coming out from under his teacher’s shadow. While he is still secretive about it—taking Isobel to a secluded area before he gives her a demonstration—he is delighted to be able to show someone what he can do. Moreover, this excitement between them boils over into full-blown attraction as Marco finds a person he can truly connect with for the first time in his life.  

“Le Bateleur” features the first discussion of the tarot in the book, establishing them as a key motif. Two cards gain prominence in Isobel and Marco’s first meeting, the Wheel of Fortune and the Magician. While neither card is explained in detail, it is implied that the cards are accurately describing the scene that is playing out between Isobel and Marco. What Isobel says about the cards creates foreshadowing and suspense as the Wheel of Fortune card suggests that there is some element of fate involved in their meeting and the Magician card signals that Marco is, himself, a magician. During the course of their conversation, Isobel also recognizes that the cards themselves have a certain stigma which is a persistent characteristic of all magical elements in the novel. Isobel is wary of pulling them from her bag while in the crowded café and she also explains that the woman she got them from refused to sell them to her as they were “devil cards.” This supports the notion that magic is something taboo, but also that the cards themselves are something powerful.  

Two important characters are introduced in these chapters, Isobel Martin and Chandresh Christophe Lefèvre, which adds even more perspectives to the narrative. While their role in the novel as a whole is still unknown, they are each posed to make an impact on Marco’s life. Isobel is quite possibly Marco’s first love, and the first person he spends time with outside of the man in the grey suit. That he begins to teach her how to use charms in “False Pretenses” suggests that she is in the position to gain even more power as the story progresses. Similarly, Chandresh is Marco’s first employer. He’s a larger-than-life personality with numerous quirks, but that novel uses him as the point of view character of “Target Practice” suggests that his point of view is significant. Moreover, Marco meets Chandresh because the man in the grey suit told him to as a preliminary maneuver, in the challenge, implying that Chandresh will have something to do with the challenge itself.