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Midnight at the Houdini

According to Merriam-Webster’s Dictionary, magic is: 1) the use of means (such as charms or spells) believed to have supernatural power over natural forces, and 2) the art of producing illusions by sleight of hand. In her new novel, Midnight at the Houdini, Delilah S. Dawson tells a tale filled with both types of magic referenced by Merriam-Webster, plus a few more just for good measure, and the results are themselves magical.

For Anna Alonso, magic became irrelevant when she was 10 years old. After attending a princess themed birthday party that went horribly, horribly wrong, she swore she would never have anything to do with princesses or magic ever again. Now, at 16, Anna is a responsible, driven, no-nonsense young woman. Anna has no time, or interest, in the frivolities that fascinate her peers. Anna makes plans, executes them, and moves on to the next challenge.

As her older sister’s wedding, which Anna planned with precision, is winding down, a freakishly strong storm hits Las Vegas. Riding in a limousine with her father and his business partners, with whom he owns several impressive hotels, Anna watches in terror as a tornado makes its way through the city, leaving a destructive path in its wake. Anna’s father suggests that the group stop at the nearest of their properties: The Houdini. It is a small hotel. It is a bit old fashioned and a bit out of date. None of the partners relish the idea of a visit, but it is close and will provide shelter until the storm, and tornado, has passed.

The instant Anna makes her way through the revolving door, she senses that something isn’t right. When her father and his friends don’t immediately join her in the lobby, Anna begins to search for help, but the hotel seems empty. She can’t even find a staff member anywhere. In addition, The Houdini is not what she expected. Rather than being a bit run down, the place is immaculate and gleaming. It is old fashioned, but only in style, and everything looks as if it has never been touched. Everything is themed to the golden age of stage magicians like its namesake: Harry Houdini. Soon, Anna begins to realize that The Houdini is not a normal hotel. It is one filled with things that don’t make sense; with things that defy logic and physics. It is filled with mysteries: secret rooms and passageways, and trap doors (She learns that one the hard way.). The Houdini is filled with magic. And, just as in every fantasy, magic comes with a cost. 

In Midnight at the Houdini, award winning author Delilah S. Dawson takes readers on a marvelous adventure clearly inspired by fantasy epics ranging from The Wizard of Oz, to Alice in Wonderland to Jim Henson’s Labyrinth. There is a plucky heroine, a romantic interest, and a villain that could stand toe-to-toe with any of Disney’s most notorious villains. In Dawson’s hands, these characters are more than fantasy tropes, but real people who readers will recognize and like, love, or hate.

The true star of the novel is the hotel. Dawson has created a sumptuous vision of a magic themed hotel complete with a secret speakeasy, a dream dessert shop, a museum of magic, and a ballroom complete with an orchestra and dancing ghosts representing generations of fashions and dancing styles. All named after famous magicians or magic related references.

Dawson has struck just the right balance between the marvelous and the menacing. As with any fantasy quest, there is an object that must be found, a limited amount of time in which to secure it, and a terrible price to be paid if it isn’t located. So, as much as Anna, and readers, want to spend time in The Houdini, exploring every nook and cranny, she must solve the riddle of what has trapped her in the hotel, and why, before she becomes a permanent guest.

The result is a wonderful, and wonder-filled, novel that will have readers torn between wanting to read as quickly as they can to find out how the novel ends, and reading as slowly as possible so they can savor every delicious moment.

Read an interview with the author here.