The Illusionist speculates about the life of Simon Magus, a magician who appears in the New Testament (Acts 8:9-24). Simon angers the apostle Peter when he attempts to buy the power to summon the Holy Spirit, thereby increasing his magical powers.
As the novel opens, Simon has been wandering through Palestine for fifteen years, looking for the source of his magical powers. Simon can fly, plunge his hands into fire, assume the face of another person, and change the density of his flesh so that knives cannot penetrate it or so that it seems to melt beneath a pursuers hands. He also has the gift of illusion, such as creating a magnificent castle hanging in the air. The novels descriptions of Simons magic and other supernatural events identify it as fantasy, although the realistic depiction of recognizable figures from the early Christian era is more typical of historical fiction.
When a bout of demoniac possession leaves Simon doubting his own powers, his slave Demetrius introduces him to a new religious sect that is rapidly gaining followers. “The People of the Way” follow the teachings of Joshua, a recently crucified and briefly resurrected religious philosopher. Simon is fascinated by the groups leader, Kepha, who has the power to heal and raise the dead. Wanting to gain these powers that are greater than his own, Simon is baptized. Eventually Simon convinces himself that Kephas ability to work miracles stems from a secret...
(The entire section is 490 words.)