Jonathan Wilder is about to make a name for himself. His plays and troupe of actors are considered among the best in Salsima, and he is on the verge of building his own playhouse. However, when his latest play greatly offends the king, he and his troupe are forced to impersonate a royal party to infiltrate the exotic and presumably savage people known as the Selphyn, an elfin-like race with a special bond with animals. In over his head with politics, Jonathan will find himself in an intrigue worthy of one of his plays, with mistaken identities, treason, assassinations, kidnapped princesses and feverish passions. Just what a misanthrope with social anxiety needs. Book Description
Ashley Barnard was the first author to be reviewed here on DarkissReads and since then we have followed her Shadow Fox trilogy with great interest. Night of the Fox saw the conclusion of this series and I have waited patiently to see what Ashley's next project would be, so when I was sent Cast of Illusion to review I started reading it within minutes of receiving it.
The book tells the story of a group of travelling players who become pawns in a deadly game of intrigue that centres around the royal court. Being manipulated from all sides the company of players must find a safe path through the plots and conspiracies that surround them and discover a way to avoid a deadly fate that awaits them.
As I have come to expect from Ashley the book is well written and the characters are detailed and fully formed. The world that she has created is believable and complete while still being fresh and interesting. The race known as Selphyn are a one of the highlights of this book. A race of people who link themselves to animal familiars and have a closer relationship with the fairy kingdom. I hope that we may see more of the Selphyn in future books.
The first thing that struck me about this book was how much it is influenced by Ashley's previous incarnation on the stage. Her love of the stage and in particular Shakespeare is reflected through many aspects of the story. The plots owes a lot to Shakespeare while the main characters radiate a love of the stage that I believe is shared by the author. For any who know and love the plays of Shakespeare this novel will feel like familiar territory. Cast of Illusion is a far lighter tale than Ashley's Shadow Fox series, although the book still deals with some of the darker aspects of the human condition. But it is here that the story has an identity issue. There are scenes within the book that are of an adult nature while the overall story lacks the grittiness and raw nature of Ashley's previous work. As such this book is difficult to categorise. But this doesn't distract from the story and it is not our job as readers to confine a book by creating boundaries for the author. We are meant to just enjoy the tale woven for us.
If i was going to sum up Cast of Illusion in just one sentence it would be "A Shakespearian tale with a light seasoning of fantasy". Well worth a read and I am pleased to award it a 4.5 star rating.