Is 1920’s New York the new “in” thing in Young Adult publishing? Not that I’m complaining, but Born of Illusion by Teri Brown is the second book this year I’ve read that’s set in 1920’s New York and features a girl with unusual powers (see: The Diviners by Libba Bray). The good thing is that’s where the similarities end.
Born of Illusion centers around Anna Van Housen, a gifted teenage stage magician working with her mother, the “medium” Marguerite Van Housen. Her father (or so her mother says) is the most famous magician of the time: Harry Houdini. But while her mother’s powers are fake, Anna’s powers are not. Behind her illusions and tricks lies a real power: the ability to feel other people’s emotions, to see the future, and to communicate with the dead.
From the back cover:
But as Anna’s powers intensify, she experiences frightening visions of her mother in peril, which lead her to explore the abilities she’s tried so long to hide. And when a mysterious young man named Cole moves into the flat downstairs, introducing Anna to a society that studies people with gifts like hers, she begins to wonder if there’s more to life than keeping secrets.
As her visions become darker and her powers spin out of her control, Anna is forced to rethink all she’s ever known. Is her mother truly in danger, or are Anna’s visions merely illusions? And could the great Houdini really be her father, or is it just another of Marguerite’s tricks?
What I enjoyed:
I actually liked Anna. Compared to Evie O’Neill of The Diviners, Anna is a likeable person who’s unfortunately stuck in the unenviable position of trying to “parent” her mother. She’s talented, works hard, and keeps her and her mother’s lives from falling apart. In short, she’s easy to root for.
It has a good ensemble cast. There are only a few characters so everyone gets fleshed out to some degree.
The mother-daughter dynamics are notable. You can feel Anna’s frustration at having to constantly look after her mother and stopping herself from shining just to keep her mother happy. Anna and Marguerite are so different, I’m surprised their big blow-up came so late in the book. Marguerite does redeem herself somewhat but it felt a bit fake and out of the blue.
What could have used some work:
The book suffers from a thin plot. It was interesting enough but “Born of Illusion” felt like it was only the first half of a novel. Sigh. I guess that’s what sequels are for.
The so-called “red herrings” are hardly misleading. It’s pretty obvious who the villain is right of the bat and who between the two guys chasing after Anna is the good guy.
The long and dragging exposition. “Born of Illusion” is told from Anna’s point of view and we suffer through continuous exposition and info dumps as the other characters tell Anna what’s happening in order to move the story forward.
Overall verdict: 3 out of 5 stars. I wanted to love this book the same way I loved The Diviners but it just wasn’t possible. Born of Illusion isn’t bad per se, but it’s not extraordinary either. I’m hoping that Book 2 will have a more substantial plot.
P.S. Huge thanks to Fully Booked, who gave me a free copy of this book during Lucy’s Birthday Party last July 27 in Fully Booked-Bonifacio High Street! Here’s to more years of making booklovers happy! 😀