Alex Rose’s The Musical Illusionist is a work of ambitious fantasy, written not as a novel or a collection of stories but as a guide to the myth-like Library of Tangents, “an archive not of history but of possibility.” These fictions (which are not properly stories, with the possible exception of the excellent title piece) take the form of articles describing the Library’s many exhibitions, including fantastical cultures, books, paintings, numerous foreign lands, even psychological disorders and microorganisms. Each entry is written so credibly that disorientation and disbelief go hand in hand, as the convincing prose and accompanying diagrams, photos, and maps seek to stun the reader into believing in even the most outlandish of exhibits.
Rose writes with an authority that will have you searching the internet for more information on subjects such as The Book of Glass, whose form morphs as the reader progresses through its thousand years worth of stories printed on its ever-changing pages, or the city of Waldemar which has “no windows, no parapets, no indicators of a world beyond,” but which does have rooms, “countless chambers of countless variety,” a “vast network of cubes, each holding a series of possibilities.”
At the beginning of the title fiction, Rose writes that “The world repaginates; every so often, human concerns either crystallize, taking shape and developing order, or vanish into obscurity.” In many ways, this phrase illuminates more than any other the deep magic at the heart of The Musical Illusionist. This is a chronicle not of the wonders of the world as it is, but a menagerie of what might have been, if only the forces of history and creation had been half as imaginative as Alex Rose is here.