The events of the past are revealed through the diaries of magicians Rupert Angier and Alfred Borden. The diaries are read by their great-grandchildren, Kate Angier and Andrew Westley (born Nicholas Borden) in the present day, and diary entries are interspersed with events of Kate's and Andrew's lives throughout the novel. The central plot focuses on a feud between the fledgling magicians, beginning when Borden disrupts a fake seance being conducted by Angier and his wife after having conducted a previous one for one of Borden's relatives (Borden was upset that they were presenting it as real when he realized it was in truth an illusion). During a scuffle, Angier's pregnant wife Julia is thrown to the ground, resulting in a miscarriage. The two men are mutually antagonistic for many years afterward as they rise to become world-renowned stage magicians.