• Alex Hui

BOOK REVIEW - Totally Free Will by Mark Chandaue

Updated: May 14



Here is my in-depth written review of Totally Free Will by Mark Chandaue.


As with many items on other books, sometimes some effects sound better on book or look greater in performance. Thus, I will try best to look at the items from different perspectives and give you the more accurate if not the whole pictures of the effects.


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.


I have no affiliation with any magicians or dealers, thus you will have everything good and bad about the product. Almost nothing is left out.


I believe by giving you the most transparent information, you will become a better consumer in long run.


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WHAT YOU GET


You get a 176-page 16cm x 23.8cm hardbound book with 70 illustrations (I counted but there is ambiguity of how the illustration is grouped in some cases) by Phill Smith.


QUALITY OF THE BOOK


The book is gorgeously produced by Haresign Press and have a brilliant cover with metallic golden ink. It is basically divided into 2 parts subtly. The first half of the book contains the tricks by Mark Chandaue. The second part (page 71-152) includes contributions from other creators.


For Mark Chandaue’s effects, they usually come with History and Performance. For some effects there are Setup. As for items from other contributors, how the explanations are structured depends on each performer’s writing style. The format and sessions are not consistent for each effect. Even for Mr. Chandaue’s items, the format and the wordings of the explanation is not entirely consistent. For example, there is a ’Setup’ session in one effect, but in another effect, it is ’Set Up’. And in one effect, each illustration has a number for it, but there is none in other effects. So it seems that there is not much editing in making the book format consistent for all (or at least Mr. Chandaue’s) effects. Besides, since the writing style are different for each creator, it’s little bit hard to read at latter half of the book since your mind will probably shift a lot from one style to another.


That being said, explanation is very clear for most of the entries. And Mr. Chandaue has a great sense of humour. I love all of his jokes in the book! And Mr. Chandaue has done a great job to include flow charts in 3 of his effects. They could be a quick reference to remind yourself about the structure of the effects. Reference and inspiration are also well credited.


All in all, the book deserves the title of ‘Collector’s Edition’ with the beautifully produced book and materials. But I hope more effort could be spent on making the book format more consistent. It feels strongly that all items came straight from the computers to the printing machines without going through professional editing. It’s very good book, but could be much better.


HOW MANY TRICKS?


  • Number of Items: 15

  • Number of Tricks: 14


One item is the full description of Mark’s Chandauelope with new update which allows 6 outs.


Basically all items need to be done with table. But there are few items which can be adopted to in-hands performance, though it won’t be too ideal.


QUALITY OF THE TRICKS


The book is a collection of ‘Free Will’ effects. For those who are not familiar with ‘Free Will’ principle, it’s basically a clever use of language to predict locations of items freely chosen. The principle dates back decades ago, but Deddy Corbuzier has re-ignited the interest with his release in 2004.


The premise of all effects in this book is basically the same: 3 items are presented and freely chosen to be kept in different locations (usually among spectators, magician and ‘discard location’), then it is revealed that the performer has made the correct predictions of the item’s exact locations.While the effects in the book more or less follow this exact same theme, they are structured very differently from Deddy Corbuzier’s original effect. Clever use of language is still employed in some effects, but you will also find new methods which work independently of the spoken words.


Although Mark Chandaue has presented the work in chronological order to illustrate the evolution of his thinking, that doesn’t mean the tricks that come later are essentially better than his previous works. Since most of the tricks require different preparations or methods, they may suit different tastes of performers. In fact, all effects have their own merits somehow. If you want to have a taste of ‘Free Will’ quick, Free Lunch maybe your go-to choice. If you want the maximum dynamics with your audience. ‘Group Dynamics’ may answer your needs. And If you were hungry for playful idea, Patrick Redford’s Improbity may make you smile.


In general, the effects in this book require a certain degree of preparations, but nothing is beyond reach of average performers. That being said, there are certain effects which require more sophisticated props like mobile app, hand-made props, detection device, marketed items and rare gimmick coin (at least gimmicked in a way not used by most magicians). However, these routines are not majority so readers don’t have to worry.


As presentation is utmost important in ‘Free Will’ effects, all routine come with performing scripts. After you go through the book, the strategy of presentation used in ‘Free Will’ effects should be very clear to you. And the good thing is, this will enhance your ability of 'words play' in other magic effects as well.


This book is a master course of ‘Free Will’ effects, readers should not take it up light-heartedly. While no heavy sleight-of-hand is involved, all effects require the performer to have a clear head to steer through many possibilities in the effect. There is almost no ‘automatic’ trick which can be done without certain degree of practice. Therefore, if the readers were buying this for ready-to-go effects, they may be disappointed. But if you are determined to master some well refined routines, you will be rewarded with top-notch materials.


How fooling are the tricks? A good ‘Free Will’ effect should be very fooling. It should leave audience in no doubt that the performer has successfully done what he claimed. All effects in this book provide you enough information to achieve the impossible, but it is the quality of the performer which determines how impossible the effect look. Besides, though the effects are not related in strict sense, the fact that they shares common ’bloodline’ means that the teaching in each effect will somehow strengthen your understanding of a particular trick in this book. Even if you just picked up one trick from this book, other tricks will still be useful to you. They are complimentary in the sense of magic learning.


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.


  1. Free Lunch 8☆

  2. Free Balling 9☆

  3. Three Will 9☆ - This effect requires detection device.

  4. Free Will Rock You 6☆ - This effect requires detection device and some hand-made props.

  5. Totally Three Will 9☆

  6. Totally Way Out Free Will 10☆ - This effect requires a marketed item.

  7. Fuel Injected Free Will 8☆ - This effect requires a mobile app. You can derive the app name from the title.

  8. Quartermaster’s Coin by Steve Drury 9☆ - This effect requires a uncommon gimmick coin.

  9. Free Will Coins by Stephen Young 9☆

  10. Rock Paper Tricker by Mark Elsdon 10☆

  11. Group Dynamics by Drew Backenstoss 9☆

  12. The Will of the City of Michael Murray 7☆ - This effect is performed over phone.

  13. Improbity by Patrick G. Redford 8☆

  14. Chandaulope 10☆

  15. Totally Free Will 8☆ - I want to give it 10 stars. But if I take consideration of its ‘Free Will’ bloodline, it’s too perfect in a sense that lacks the elegance of the tricky part of other ‘Free Will’ effects. It’s a very very good effect, but at the same time seem out of place compared with other effects. (I know it may be hard to understand my reasoning. It’s like I would prefer Max Maven’s ‘Positive Negative’ over Kenton Knepper’s 'Kolossal Killer’ though they are not strictly comparable. In terms of outs, the former effect is more elegant.)


My Picks of the Book


Three Will

This effect is performed for 2 audience. While it involves detection device which is not preferred by some performers, the principle it teaches is something very versatile and useful for other effects. Also, this effect is very clean in execution and achieve the same level of astonishment compared with other more sophisticated versions in this book.


Totally Three Will

It introduces a general principle to handle the effect elegantly. Also, the prop is functional in other effects if you don’t perform ‘Free Will’ plot. The effect essentially demonstrates the essence of ‘Free Will’ plot in a very simple structure. A clean and elegant effect.


Rock Paper Tricker

Unlike other effects which share some similarities in methodology, this effect stands on its own with a unique approach to ‘Free Will’ plot. It’s devilishly clever and can play big with minimal preparation. This is probably the easiest effect you can pick up in this book and perform with minimal practice (though I always recommend practice).


PROS ABOUT THE BOOK


1. The book is gorgeously produced.

2. Masterclass not only in ‘Free Will’ plot, but showmanship.

3. Many interesting ideas to explore. And they are very inspiring.


CONS ABOUT THE BOOK


1. The book format is not consistent between tricks. It can be much better if more effort was spent on editing.

2. Some tricks require props which are probably not owned by many performers (some props are expensive).


FINAL VERDICT


‘Free Will’ plot is a tricky plot because it is hard to perform well. It requires clear mind and detailed planning to make it work. Otherwise, spectators may leave the show with doubt.


With this masterpiece by Mark Chandaue, readers are provided with many important information to elevate their performance. With careful study, they can make their ‘Free Will’ effects into a piece of performing arts.


While ‘Free Will’ is not the most popular plot, it deserves attention because there are elements which are useful in other effects. If you are serious about your arts, this book can be a good reference even if you don’t perform any of the effects at all. It deserves multiple readings.


As I said, this book should not be taken light-heartedly. If you pay enough attention to the details in it, I am sure it will be a fruitful experience of reading. And its teaching will be with you for a long time.


At the price of $65, it has my highest recommendation. I will certify it with ‘PERFECT CHOICE’ award without hesitation.


  • Book Quality: 9/10


  • Effectiveness of Tricks: 9/10


  • Practical: 9/10


  • Creativity: 9/10


  • Cost Performance: 10/10


  • Final Score: 9/10


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