Writer conjures up magical book to counter stereotype

Angela Armstrong challenges the male-dominated magic act tradition in The Unflinching Ash.

Mahurangi-based writer Angela Armstrong has succeeded in turning one of her frustrations into a novel, and it has started to enjoy strong sales after glowing online reviews.

The frustration came after her three daughters went to see a magic act where the male performer was supported by a female assistant.

Each of her daughters was enthralled by the act, and each came away wondering if they might make a female assistant one day.

“I felt I really needed to show them that the magician could be a woman and that a woman can be the star of the show,” Angela says.

She says while there are female illusionists, nearly all of the household names – such as Penn and Teller, David Blaine, David Copperfield, Siegfried and Roy – are men.

To challenge the stereotype, Angela began developing a story where the heroine was a female magician.

She finished the resulting young adult novel – The Unflinching Ash – while house-sitting in Mangawhai.

Angela says the main protagonist, eighteen-year-old Ash, lives in medieval Europe during a time when hysteria about witchcraft is rife. Ash’s illusions – particularly her apparent ability to read minds – is easily confused with practicing demonic arts.

“It would have been seen as heresy at the time, as the church was the only institution that could legitimately access the divine,” Angela says.

Inevitably, misunderstandings about the nature of her act pose considerable challenges for Ash.

Angela says the book came out just before lockdown started this year, which initially hurt sales as nobody could access it in bookshops.

However, things turned around when several influential book reviewers on TikTok rated the book highly.

Angela adds that lockdown may have ultimately helped the book, since many have turned to reading when they might otherwise have been engaged in doing something else.

The Unflinching Ash is available in Mahurangi bookshops.

Book Giveaway

Mahurangi Matters has one copy of The Unflinching Ash to giveaway.

To go in the draw, email your contact details to editor@localmatters.co.nz and put “Ash” in the subject line. Competition closes on Dec 31.