• Alex Hui

BOOK REVIEW - Distilled by Ryan Plunkett

Updated: May 24



Here is my in-depth review of Distilled by Ryan Plunkett.


REVIEW PHILOSOPHY


The philosophy is simple: to give you the truth.


When I review a product, I’d like to judge the product per se, but not putting past record or creator’s name/reputation into consideration. I will provide what is not said on the advertisement and details beyond the product itself.


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YOUTUBE REVIEW


If you want to watch the review, here is the YouTube version.



WHAT YOU GET


Distilled by Ryan Plunkett is published by Vanishing Inc. 


It is a 212-page hardbound book measuring , measuring 16.0cm x 20.8cm. It comes with only 185 full colour photographs (I literally counted to verify). I don’t know why, but in the product description on many dealer sites, it is said that the book comes 'with over 300 gorgeous photographs’ (where are those 120 missing photos!?). The description on Vanishing Inc is now corrected, but not other dealers. Out of 185 photographs, 172 of them are found in the tricks description.  


The book deals with card trick mainly. 

QUALITY OF THE BOOK


This is a professionally designed book with many beautiful and clear photographs. The photos are very helpful in aiding the learning process as they are shot with nice angles with clarity. 


The format for each trick is very consistent. Each effect is made of ‘Effect’, ’Method Overview’, ‘Moves’, ‘Needed’ and ‘Choreography’. In ‘Choreography', each phase and important part are clearly sectioned. This enhances reading experience much. I particularly like the section ’Method Overview’. It contains a brief description of methods and is a good reference/introduction for the trick. 



Ryan has done a great job by giving lots of credits and references. And the writing style is supremely good. It’s crystal clear and Ryan leave you with no questions in the description. He has covered many angles of the tricks. I really love his writing style. 


Regarding the book layout, it is nicely done but not without issue. It seems that the font and margin of the book is exceptionally large. Due to the small dimension of the book and large font, the book is unnecessarily thick, which in turn increase the production cost. The thickness of the weight of the book is not proportionally to what it contains. Of course, some may argue that the book contains no filler and the contents are ‘distilled’, but I strongly feels that the book is made thicker than it should be unnecessarily. The book is filled with many half-page picture, margins and large font to make up the size, but not the contents. 


All in all, this is a beautiful book that I enjoy reading. But it’s a much shorter book than you may expect. It’s 212-page but I can finish in an hour.


HOW MANY TRICKS?


  • Number of Entries: 10

  • Number of Card Tricks: 8

  • Number of Money Tricks: 2

  • Technique or Utility: 9

  • Number of Article: 0

  • In-hand tricks: 2


For technique or utility, readers may find there are more or fewer techniques depending on their skill levels.


EFFECT

The following description is copied from the product description. This will give you a general idea of what they are about.

Any Card at Our Numbers: Two decks begin on the table. One is chosen by a spectator then shuffled thoroughly, while the other is isolated under another spectator’s hand. Two numbers are freely named. Despite nearly impossible odds, the same card is found in both decks at the named position.


Fan Mail: This unique effect can span across the course of your show. A randomly chosen card from a red deck is shown to match a card given away earlier from a blue deck, which is concealed inside a piece of fan mail. It's funny, amazing, and teaches many valuable lessons about constructing an act.


Ace on Top: The Ace through Five of a named suit are placed in order, then rearranged. Despite repeatedly changing the sequence, the order always remains the same. With several phases, this routine has a lovely build and displays Ryan’s knack for crafting elegant, impactful card magic.


Magnetic Silver: In this multi-phase routine, you cause two coins to apparently become magnetized, attracting to and repelling away from each other.


The Time Machine: This is Ryan's handling of a classic plot in which you cause a deck of cards to go back in time, step by step.


Out of Sight, Out of Mind: Ryan has performed and explored this Dai Vernon classic for many years. While there are many variations already in print, in this version, every moment and subtlety has been considered in order to achieve a real piece of wonder.


Versatile Transport: This approach to the Slow Motion Bill Transpo allows for the use of any borrowed bill. It's a pocket-sized miracle that you'll be able to do anywhere.


Paper and Silk: Ryan has breathed new life into the classic Cards Through Handkerchief. Justifying the use of the handkerchief to make the deck “sleight of hand proof,” the audience is left convinced that the cards were never touched by the magician. Even so, the card penetrates the cloth with ease.


Muck Off: The magician demonstrates a classic way to cheat at cards: hiding cards in the sleeve and switching them into play. The magician then grants this skill to the spectator, with a card on the table switching with a card in the spectator’s sleeve. Combined with a logical kicker, Ryan has created a routine that will challenge even the most attentive audience.


Gravity Deck: The most unusual effect in the book. Placing a deck of cards on the spectator's hand, they slowly feel the box becoming lighter. They feel the deck vanish, bit by bit until you display the box to be completely empty. You then cause the cards to reappear inside the box. This highly original effect is as clever as it is deceptive.


QUALITY OF THE TRICKS


This book deals with card tricks mainly. And there is a trick with coins, and another with bills. 

There are a good mix of multi-phase and single-phase tricks in the book. In general, the tricks do not feel too long or short in most cases. 


4 tricks ('Magnetic Silver’, 'The Time Machine’, 'Versatile Transport’, and 'Paper and Silk’) can be done in-hand. For tricks which requires working surface, some involves wash-style of shuffles on the table. Therefore a relatively large space is required. If you solely performed on street, you might find that they are quite difficult to perform.



Many effects in this books require preparation, gaffed cards or gimmicks. Some preparation may take about 5 minutes for each performance; while there are effects which require 1-time preparation that take about 30 mins. For the gaffed cards employed in one trick, it’s on the market for sure but not easily available (in terms of cost or how easy to find). As for the gimmick in a trick, it’s not uncommon. But I don’t think too many readers will spend effort to locate the right decks. In my opinion, if you are someone who want to find some effects which can be done at once, you will be disappointed how few there are. 

Most effects are well constructed. ‘Ace on Top’ has a solid structure with some very elegant sequences which will please card workers. ‘Out of Sight, Out of Mind’ offers some very clever solutions to the card selection and positioning sequence. Though preparation is required, the sequence is one of the cleanest I’ve ever seen. I like it much.  

However, I have a strong feeling that the effects are somehow built with magician audience in minds. It seems to me that ‘fooling magicians’ is the goals for some effects.  Therefore, I have wondered ‘why make it so complicated?’ several times during my reading. For example, in one of the effects, a device is built to accomplish a move. For Ryan Plunkett who has a working surface, this approach works nicely. But I bet for 90% of the readers, this approach is not too practical. In another effect ‘The Card Through Handkerchief’, it seems to me every subtle element introduced are for magicians. And there is risk which is totally beyond control at one point. For lay audience, there are many more simple solutions available. 


In my opinion, in some of the most exciting trick descriptions above, there are some hidden information which will make the tricks look better on description. While I love many effects in this book, I don’t think they are as exciting as I expected. The work on breather crimp is very nice, but I wonder how many readers will actually incorporate the extra works on breather crimp like that, just to reduce one minor move which works for lay audience for decades. Some subtleties on breather crimp is surely for magicians audience. 

To conclude, while most of the effects are solidly constructed, I remain a little doubtful for the overall approaches of some effects. For some effects, it seems to me that a lot of extra works are done just to enhance effectiveness a little for magicians audience. For lay audience, they are not particularly more impressive than other versions of the similar effects. I like the clever methodologies of some effects, but I don’t see myself drawn to these effects because they are not simply superior versions. 

If you are professional magicians, you may find some interesting subtleties to add to your materials. But for hobbyists, you may find most of the materials are little bit underwhelming, not because the materials are bad, but because you won’t find too many surprises.

TOP 2 PICKS


It’s quite easy to pick Top 2 because the materials are very limited, and the Top 2 are kind of obvious. I only pick 2 effects instead of 3 because there are only 10 effects in this book. And I don’t think others are comparable to these Top 2 (I have spent 15 mins trying to pick the third effect considering many factors, but I couldn’t at the end). 


Any Card at Our Numbers


This is an intriguing approach of ACAAN. The clever part of this trick is the card selection sequence. That is very disarming with little effort. The spectator shuffles the cards by using ‘wash style’ shuffle, but somehow the card is still under your control. Even if you don’t perform the effect, you can adapt this sequence to other effects. 


However, I don’t like the fact that the trick description is somehow misleading. It states that 2 spectators are involved and implies 2 numbers are freely named. That’s not the case in 2 major ways. That’s why I mentioned earlier that some tricks read better on description because the real trick is not what it is. 


Ace on Top


This is one of the two tricks in this book which can be done with borrowed deck. 


The choreography of this trick is beautiful. While there are 1-2 less elegant moments, the trick is solidly constructed with a very clean picture in audience’s mind. 

HOW FOOLING? 


Most effects in this book are very fooling. The principles are good and spectators can hardly backtrack the routines. 


DIFFICULTY


Most effects are not too technically demanding except 2-3. They are not for beginners for sure but intermediate magicians who practise will have no issue.


RATING OF TRICKS


I usually rate a trick based on several factors: 

1. Practical of Effect

2. Effectiveness (how magical the effect is)

3. Creativity 


Sometimes, even I rate a trick (5/10), that doesn’t mean it is a bad trick. Maybe I just think the method is not particularly new or interesting. The effect may still be ok.


And even if an effect was very magical and creative in execution, I wouldn’t give high rating if it involves a lot of procedures or easy to mess up.


As a general guideline, a trick rated 7 or above is good. A rating of 9-10 guarantees a great trick (even if you don’t do it, it contains a lot of new things you can learn). 


I will try to give a reason if I rate an effect low score. I hope this will give you a better idea of my reasoning. 


T = Technique or Utility 

P = Need Preparation  


  1. Any Card at Our Numbers  9☆  P

  2. Fan Mail  8☆  P

  3. Ace on Top  9☆

  4. Magnetic Silver  8☆  P

  5. The Time Machine  7☆ 

  6. Out of Sight, Out of Mind 8☆ P

  7. Versatile Transport  7☆ P

  8. Paper and Silk  5☆ P

  9. Muck Off  9☆ P

  10. Gravity Deck  8☆  P 


KEY POINTS OF THE BOOK

  • A short read but full of details. 

  • Just 10 tricks

  • Very few impromptu tricks

  • Some gaffs are hard to obtain

  • Some subtleties are rarely seen

  • Many details on breather crimp

  • Not for beginner, but not too advanced either


PROS ABOUT THE BOOK


  1. The book is beautifully designed. 

  2. Some very nice subtleties which can be adapted for other effects. 


CONS ABOUT THE BOOK


  1. Some subtleties are for magicians mainly, and thus making the tricks quite complicated. 

  2. Contain relatively few tricks at this price tag.

FINAL VERDICT


Distilled by Ryan Plunkett is a decent book with some interesting ideas for some classic effects. It’s beautifully produced with a clear writing, and Ryan gives so much information in each effect.


The effects are powerful if rightly done. But be aware that not all the materials are practical for average magicians. I bet there will be a lot of effects which readers will find interesting but never perform. 



To determine whether you need this book, it depends on who you are, and what you want. 


For card lovers who every approach of effects on the planet, there are some interesting materials. For professionals, it depends on your working environment mainly. 


While for people who have limited resources, there are better options out there teaching you more effects with similar quality level. In my opinion, what makes this book unique is the details in each effect, but not necessarily the overall quality of all tricks. It is definitely a good book, but not a great book I expected from what I heard from dealers. 


While some dealers and reviewers talk about the fact that these materials are from working repertoire for real audience. I often see that it is not the right measurement of the effect quality. There are so many magicians performing for real audience, but not all the materials are qualified as top-notch. There is no correlation of quality and the audience type in any sense.  


I bet many magicians will love this book because it contains many subtleties for magician audience. Some ideas are indeed useful and interesting. But honestly, I didn’t have a single moment of ‘WOW’ during my readings. It’s a good book for sure, but it didn’t give me any big surprise. 

As for the price tag of $50, it depends on what you expect from this book. Though dealers are saying that it worth the price because ‘there is no filler material’, and ‘most magic books have one or two tricks that you might perform. I'll bet that Distilled has seven or eight.’, I think it’s overrated. For most readers, I am quite confident that 1-3 tricks are the average number of effects they will actually do. For other effects, they will simply smile and turn to next page. 


Don’t get me wrong. Distilled is a good book. But it is just not a great book I expected. I will give my high recommendation to any enthusiastic card lovers or book collectors. But for others, it may not be a must in some cases.   


  • Book Quality: 9/10

  • Effectiveness of Tricks: 9/10

  • Practical: 7/10 

  • Creativity: 8/10

  • Cost Performance: 7/10 

  • Final Score: 7.5/10


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