We meet Sabine as she mourns the death of her husband, Parsifal. The two had partnered on stage in a magic act. But this was not a typical marriage. Although the two loved each other dearly, they did not marry until about a year prior, after a decades long friendship. Parsifal was gay, and was dying of AIDS, the disease that had taken his lover, Phan. When a lawyer comes to Sabine with details of the will, she learns that everything Parsifal had told her about his upbringing was a lie. His mother and sister come to Los Angeles, meet with Sabine and mourn together. The story is about Sabine looking into Parsifal’s past as a way of getting closer to him, as his mother seeks out Sabine as her way of re-engaging with her lost son. What did Parsifal have to hide? As each secret is revealed, we wonder what will be revealed next. Is Sabine the only Magician’s Assistant here? Parsifal’s sister turns out to have been the original model for that role. What other parallelisms will Pratchett reveal?
Although the tale of a secret past revealed is interesting, the action is very deliberate, and I found that I was eager for her to pick up the pace. I cannot say that I seriously considered not finishing the book, but the thought did cross my mind.