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Michael Feldman deeply loves card magic. He also deeply loves creating an agreement with his audiences that magic isn't real, and that everything he does requires raw skill, sleight of hand, and psychology. If these descriptors resonate with you, The Pages are Blank - Feldman's first major solo book release - might be right up your alley. Card effects, techniques, and some fascinating performance theory make up the near-200 pages of this new volume published by the always outstanding Vanishing Inc. But let's get into the details!

As is to be expected from Vanishing Inc, the book is beautiful: a sturdy white hardcover with thoughtful, minimalist design and thick, glossy pages with black & white photographs. I showed this book to my sister, a designer herself, and she gave it a 10/10 on aesthetics. That's high praise, and I agree. My one concern is that the pale white cover is likely more prone to stains, scuffs, and visible wear, so it's advisable to be careful with it.

There are 19 items in Feldman's book, each explained pretty well with a serviceable amount of accompanying photographs. The material is all sleight-of-hand card magic, and be forewarned: this stuff isn't easy. There are a handful of pieces that are within grasp for an intermediate card technician, but there's also a solid chunk I'd more readily categorize as advanced; closer to Ernest Earick than John Bannon. If you're not already adept at things like palming and bottom dealing, or may struggle with performing tricky sleights in non-dominant hands, this might not be the book for you. I consider myself someone who operates in the intermediate-to-advanced category, but there's no shortage of challenging work in these pages that it'll take me quite a while to get a handle on. Feldman also frequently references rather obscure moves with cited sources, but doesn't teach said moves or even go over them in brief. If you're not well-read in card magic literature, this will be a barrier for you if you'd like to perform the methods as described. Also, while I appreciated Feldman's attempts to keep his explanations economical, that sometimes - but not always - comes at the sacrifice of some clarity.

That said, it strikes me that some effects could be rendered a little more user friendly with some slight personal modifications to the handlings. For instance, one early effect makes use of a bottom palm; since I'm not great with bottom palms, I'd much rather control the necessary card to the top instead and palm it from there. These variations might slightly betray Feldman's careful structure, but they won't sacrifice effect.

The pieces in this book are all well structured and very practical, but don't take practical to mean organic or suitable for any situation. For example, most people who buy this book were likely tantalized by Out With the Wash, Michael's extremely clever deck switch performed in the book's trailer. The switch looks like a deck is washed around the table, gathered, and straightened out; but in the process, the entire deck is switched in full view. This looks gorgeous and is one of the few instances I've seen a deck switch that is genuinely burnable. You don't need misdirection or cover or a relaxed offbeat for this thing; the work is near-invisible on its own. However, there's a big caveat: the switch requires a multifaceted rig to be constructed and added to the rear of a table, making this a deck switch that is literally only useable in formalized performance scenarios like a parlour show. It is the furthest possible thing from organic, but I can see magicians making amazing use out of this in the appropriate setting. Whether or not you decide to adopt it yourself will depends on your intended performance aesthetics and you willingness to construct and implement a not-insignificant piece of apparatus.

But don't worry: there are also plenty of pieces here that you can readily perform from a shuffled deck in use. One of my personal favourites is False Dichotomy, a thoughtful and surprising 'magician in trouble' style of effect in which the magician creates a scenario wherein two spectators end up arguing about which suit their selection truly was; but, nonetheless, the magician resolves the effect in satisfying and surprising fashion. Compared to other effects in the book, this is one of the more attainable ones from a technical standpoint and would be well suited to a casual performance environment like walk-around.

If you're a student of the Triumph plot the way I am, you'll find some interesting and fresh ideas in Victory, Feldman's in-the-hands interpretation of the effect that has some lovely visual convincers and displays. This is not going to replace any of my top go-to Triumph methods, but I still admire Feldman's clever thinking here.

Feldman also has some exciting techniques and sleights on offer here, including a clever variant on the book peek that allows for multiple selections to be peeked at once; his touches on the Gin Pick; a lovely Dorian Rhodell technique for top-palming two cards at once; an elegant replacement of a palmed card that avoids many of the usual tells that Feldman hilariously lays out in his introduction to the handling; and a wicked difficult - but very cool - top palm that occurs during a standard riffle shuffle and bridge. Again, this is hard sh!t, but I can see a lot of magicians having fun putting in the work. I know I will!

Many will have a field day with Feldman's work on signature duplication, to which he dedicates a large chunk of the latter part of the book. The thinking here is clever, deeply practical, and opens up a wide variety of exciting possibilities for those who want to perform miracles with signed cards; including an incredible take on Anniversary Waltz that allows you to cleanly show both signed cards in isolation before they fuse together.

I was less taken by The Trick That Cannot Be Spellchecked, which to me has a more interesting dramaturgy than method. While Feldman presents some intriguing ideas on how to script and frame a spelling trick, his handling is wildly technical. To achieve what is ultimately an impossible location of a selection and its three mates, you'll be palming, holding out, adding on, and executing multiple consecutive bottom deals. This handling is not for the faint of heart and, ultimately, Feldman has taken an effect that has numerous excellent semi-automatic interpretations in the canon already and turned it into a hefty sleight-of-hand workhorse.

I'm also not the hugest fan of Time One At A, which is Feldman's ace-cutting sequence anchored to a deliberately befuddling, time-bending presentational hook. I like the method here and there are some nice surprises, but if you don't intend to perform this as-written - and you may not, because it's so personal to Feldman and his style - you might be better served by other existing methods.

Some of my favourite elements of the book are Feldman's philosophies on contemporary magic performance. These are philosophies I've already adopted myself: in a nutshell, approaching the audience's experience of your magic in a way that doesn't just ignore sleight of hand and underlying techniques, but actively acknowledges them. Magic isn't real, and Feldman wants you to remember that at every turn; even while he's fooling you badly. Feldman makes a strong case for the artistic value of such an approach, and I agree with all of it. I believe this is an approach that not only more readily makes our magic more innately honest, it's also far more respectful of an audience's intelligence. People who seek out the chance to see magic know what they're buying into, and Feldman doesn't believe in selling his work as anything beyond the practical limitations of what it is. Many magicians could learn a lot from this approach.

If you love knuckle-busting card magic and appreciate subversive philosophical arguments on magic as an art form, I think you'll find a lot to love about The Pages are Blank. Michael Feldman's approach to magic and sleight of hand is well captured, and even those who don't come away performing the material in these pages will at least come away with plenty of stimulating food for thought. Recommended.
Learn more about my upcoming book of close up magic and theory SYNTHESIS & SECRETS: A Magic Book in Four Acts:
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