Book Review: Born of Illusion

Born of Illusion
Published By: Balzer & Bray
Publication Date: June 11, 2013
Page Count: 352
Source: ARC Kindly Provided by the Publisher
Audience: Young Adult - Fantasy, Historical Fiction

I am a history nerd so I have been excited about this novel since I heard about it's existence. The 1920's is such an intriguing time period. I envy the carefree lifestyle of many during those years before the Great Depression struck. I also find it to be such a monumental decade for women's rights. The short skirts and short hair were quite risque and spotlighted women's desire for freedom of expression. While I didn't spend a lot of time studying this era while working on my history degree, I have found that I love learning more about the time period through fiction. I keep devouring reads set in this time period (The Diviners by Libba Bray and The Heiresses by Allison Rushby are two other titles set in this era I'd highly recommend). 

Born of Illusion didn't disappoint in the historical department, but I loved that elements of fantasy and the supernatural were also woven throughout the story. The main character, Anna, is a magician. She performs her tricks for the masses in her mother's show in New York City. While she loves performing on the stage, the darker business of seances causes her to feel uneasy. Anna hates feeding off of the pain and sadness of others, but her mother insists that the true money is in seances - not show business. Anna learns rather quickly that while most mediums are a fraud she has the chilling luck of being able to see and speak to the dead. To make matters worse, she has horrific visions of tragedies and is powerless to stop them. It's not until she meets a handsome newcomer that she begins to unravel the mysteries behind her talents and find ways to cope with her supernatural gifts.

I loved watching Anna grow as a character. She finds herself in her mother's shadow on more than one occasion; she struggles with wanting to assert her independence and playing the role of the obedient daughter. Her will and backbone grow stronger throughout the course of the story. I was often appalled by Marguerite's behavior towards her daughter. The competitiveness and secrets irked me, but it serves its purpose of making Anna a more sympathetic character. I kept rooting for her to stand up to her mother.

In addition to the relationship between Anna and her mother, I also enjoyed the friendship that sprouts between her and Cynthia. Both of these girls are strong and independent. I think they are perfect examples of what flappers embody. Both Anna and Cynthia struggle to shake off the legacy of their families and stand on their own merits. I loved the support they offered one another.

Furthermore, the romance in this one was sweet, but did have some insta-love elements. It's hard for me to buy the whole notion of love at first sight, but I suppose it's possible. I just think characters need to interact a bit more before they swoon. I did enjoy the romance and appreciated that it was a secondary aspect. The story truly focuses on Anna and her learning to cope with her gifts.

Lastly, I loved the links to Houdini. Brown did a great job of blending real people and events into the story. I'd certainly recommend this one if you're craving a trip to the 1920's or are interested in the spiritualism movement.

One Last Gripe: It takes awhile for the story to gain some momentum, but once it does, I couldn't stop reading.

My Favorite Thing About This Book: Anna's character development

First Sentence: The hair on the back of my neck prickles even before I spot him rounding the corner ahead.

Favorite Character: Anna

Least Favorite Character: Marguerite

Anna Van Housen is thirteen the first time she breaks her mother out of jail. By sixteen she’s street smart and savvy, assisting her mother, the renowned medium Marguerite Van Housen, in her stage show and séances, and easily navigating the underground world of magicians, mediums and mentalists in 1920’s New York City. Handcuffs and sleight of hand illusions have never been much of a challenge for Anna. The real trick is keeping her true gifts secret from her opportunistic mother, who will stop at nothing to gain her ambition of becoming the most famous medium who ever lived. But when a strange, serious young man moves into the flat downstairs, introducing her to a secret society that studies people with gifts like hers, he threatens to reveal the secrets Anna has fought so hard to keep, forcing her to face the truth about her past. Could the stories her mother has told her really be true? Could she really be the illegitimate daughter of the greatest magician of all?


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