Release Date: 06/11/13
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?
My thoughts on the book:
Born of Illusion is a unique addition to both the historical fiction and paranormal genres. Brown explores one of my favorite time periods, the roaring 20's, in this intriguing novel. Along with the fantastic setting, the world-building is pretty well done and the characterization is top notch. The pacing is a bit slow to start, but things quickly pick up. The mystery is complex, and while I saw a lot of things coming, there were also a few surprises. The relationships are natural and evolve organically throughout the course of the novel, and the secondary characters are filled with personality. Born of Illusion is a terrific, fun, and touching summer read.
Anna is a complex, flawed, but sympathetic character. I really enjoyed learning about her life and all of her gifts. She is likable and easy to relate to in some ways, but extremely complicated in others. She's a good narrator, even if it is hard to trust her take on things. I think the fact that Anna isn't completely trustworthy adds some friction to the narrative, which makes the story more interesting. Marguerite, Anna's mother, is a character in every sense of the word. She's extremely interesting, and her relationship with Anna, while strained, is touching. The dynamic between them is something you don't see every day, that's for sure. I absolutely adored Cole (one of the love interests). On the surface, he seems a bit dull, but he is full of surprises. He, in my opinion, is a welcome change from the typical angsty, snarky YA male leads. Owen, on the other hand, irritated me. He's supposed to be fun, but to me he was just annoying. Jacques and Mr. Darby are interesting secondary characters, and extremely well-developed. I felt as if I knew them almost as well as the main characters, which is something that is sorely lacking in most literature.
My only real complaint about the book is that sometimes I forgot the setting and pictured it occurring in modern times. While Brown does a good job painting the setting, I think more reminders needed to be inserted to keep the reader's focus on the 1920's instead of present-day. At least, in my mind, that needed to occur. I automatically revert to "normal times" for me when I get engrossed in a novel, unless the setting is constantly shoved in my face. That being said, when Brown does talk about 1920's New York, I can fully picture it. Also, the world-building is done pretty well. I felt like some of it was revealed too slowly, but that's probably just because I'm impatient. Anna has a pretty good grasp on what's going on, considering she doesn't have anyone to talk to about what's happening to her.
The relationships between the characters are extremely natural and happen organically. I never felt that Brown forced anything. Also, the relationships are all complex. Furthermore, there is no insta-love, for a change. Anna's relationship with her mother is complicated and touching. It really illustrates the depth of the mother-daughter bond.
The pacing starts out a bit slow with world-building and setting establishment, but as soon as it picks up, the story is extremely engrossing. I didn't know exactly where Brown was going with the plot, and the book definitely held my interest. I had the "bad guys" figured out by about 2/3 of the way through, but I didn't know exactly what they were going to do or why. Because of that, I kept reading, and I'm glad I did. The ending is satisfying, but leaves room for a sequel, which I am looking forward to.
Overall, I'd recommend this for anyone who is looking for a unique, fun, and touching summer read. I thoroughly enjoyed the book and can't wait for the sequel!
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