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A Reader of Fictions: Review: Born of Illusion

A Reader of Fictions

Book Reviews for Just About Every Kind of Book

Thursday, July 18, 2013

Review: Born of Illusion

Born of Illusion
Born of Illusion, Book 1

Author: Teri Brown
Pages: 384
Publisher: Balzer & Bray
Read: June 9, 2013
Source: YA Books Central for review

Description from Goodreads:
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?

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

One of the recent trends seems to be historical fiction set in the 1920s. Born of Illusion is the third one I've read in the last year with a focus on the occult during the prohibition era. The fact that Born of Illusion follows on the heels of The Diviners and In the Shadow of Blackbirds does not really diminish it for me, and, likely, it was already in the editing process before the first of those was released. It's a funny coincidence, though. Well, three books in and I am definitely a fan of this possible new trend, though I wouldn't mind seeing something set in the 1920s a bit more about prohibition or gangsters or crossdressing musicians, rather than seances and spiritualism.

Anna Van Housen joins the ranks of YA heroines with mother issues and missing fathers, also known as roughly a third of YA heroines. Her mother is a well-known medium, though Anna knows that's all just illusion. Anna's the one who creates much of the illusion in fact, and is a talented musician herself. Her mother claims that Anna's father is the illustrious Harry Houdini, but Anna's not sure, and really does not like having her talent explained away by inheritance, because she has worked hard. I love the way Anna refuses to fall into gender norms or allow anyone to diminish her based on her gender.

On top of her magician skills, Anna has a host of other abilities about which her mother knows nothing, because Anna doesn't trust her mother enough to tell her. When she touches people, Anna can sense their emotions. She also experiences visions of the future, usually of catastrophic events like the sinking of the Titanic, but now of her mom afraid and herself drowning. Her powers have been getting stronger and she doesn't know why. Both the spiritualism and magic tricks were well-handled and described.

Anna's relationship with her mother plays a crucial role, as do her relationships with others. Since Anna and her mom have moved a lot, she's rarely had any friends, and Anna generally avoids contact so as not to read people's feelings. Now that they've moved to New York City, they're trying to build a home for themselves for once. At first, Anna's mother seems irredeemable, but I love that her character rounds out as the book progresses.

So, too, do the rest of the supporting cast members. Everyone initially is quite one note, but they become more robust as Anna opens herself up to the idea of being close to people. Her sketchy manager turns out to be surprisingly dependable. The crotchety old man downstairs becomes someone who always cares and helps out. The vapid blonde with an interest in seances and the much older, bored husband ends up a dear friend. Watching Anna overcome her first impressions of people is delightful, and such a great message; in my own life, I've often found that people are not what they seem at first glance.

Then, of course, there is romance. Anna has two options on her romantic horizons: party boy and wannabe Magician Owen or controlled, polite British Cole. What's great about this love triangle of sorts is that it's very low key. Anna basically has two very different sorts of crushes on two very different boys, and is trying to figure out which one she actually likes. She doesn't make lifelong plans or commitments, and thinks in terms of the present moment, which is great.

The weak point of the novel was definitely the mystery element. Anna's trying to figure out who means her harm, and the culprit is obvious. Or, at least, was to me. The evil dude is also rather generically evil, too, lacking in motivation, though perhaps this will be developed in later books. On top of that, the ending felt quite rushed, with the climactic scene cut off in the middle, the rest of the happenings explained to Anna after the fact. While this did make sense in context, it was still confusing and anticlimactic for the reader.

Though I initially thought Born of Illusion was a standalone, I'm okay with there being more books about Anna and will be eagerly awaiting Born of Deception. With a vibrant heroine, a cute romance, daring escapes and ghostly visitations, Born of Illusion is a fun and exciting read.

Rating: 3.5/5

Favorite Quote:
"'Are you ready for a good time, doll?'
     I smile. 'Only if you stop calling me doll. I am not, nor have I ever been, a doll.'"

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Blogger Christine D. said...

I like the idea of this 1920s trend, though I have not read any yet from 2013. Honestly, I was enjoying the review and when I saw the disastrous phrase, love triangle, I slumped. Thank goodness it was low-key - the way it should be in a non-romance book. ;) I would most definitely give it a go (wait, I have the eARC...oh crap)! However, the lack of compelling mystery will certainly bother me too.

July 18, 2013 at 12:14 PM  
Blogger Katie M. Stout said...

I thought this was a companion series? Maybe I'm wrong. I feel like I read somewhere that the series is daughters of famous people or something, all tied together by the secret evil group. Idk.

I tried reading this one but was bored. I didn't make it to the part where she starts changing her opinions of people, so maybe I should have stuck with it.

July 18, 2013 at 12:38 PM  
Blogger Pabkins said...

I've always loved the idea of the 1920's. I used to have so much fun hearing my friend's gramma and my great aunts talking about the fun they would gave. I agree more gangsters and speak easies!

July 18, 2013 at 12:55 PM  
Blogger Molli @ Once Upon a Prologue said...

"Fun and exciting." YES. Also I liked how you pointed out that Anna overcomes her first impressions of people and discovers they are so different than she originally thought. That's true to life, and I loved what it showed us about the secondary characters, AND about Anna. Also loved the like interests, especially Cole.

And even though the parents trope usually annoys the heck out of me, in this one it WORKED for me, because of the context, I think, and because Anna showed so much character growth! So glad you liked it too, girl.

July 18, 2013 at 3:18 PM  
Blogger kara-karina@Nocturnal Book Reviews said...

Agree with your analysis, Christina! I loved the part where the love interests were not a dominating line of the plot especially with so many things happening to the main heroine! It always pisses me off when there are people dying around or loved ones get terribly injured and the main heroine only gazes in the eyes of her love interest and thinks how hot and adorable he is. I usually stop reading at that point :) Looking forward to book #2, this is quite a good well-rounded series.

July 18, 2013 at 3:40 PM  
Blogger Katie said...

I've been seeing some mixed reviews for this one but I'm glad to hear that you enjoyed it. I do love anything set in the 1920s and the magic aspect of this one sounds awesome. I will definitely be checking it out.

Also, Dollface by Renee Rosen is coming out later this year and while I haven't read it, it appears to be a novel set in the 1920s with gangsters and no magic. =)

July 18, 2013 at 3:44 PM  
Blogger Christina said...

Oh really? The 1920s books I've read have all been awesome, but a bit too similar thus far. Anyway, the love triangle really wasn't too bad, because there wasn't much love in it. Very much flirting and some dates and then a clear decision. Nothing serious. It's definitely a fun read, despite that stuff.

July 20, 2013 at 4:48 PM  
Blogger Christina said...

It might be. I'd just heard there was a sequel. I know no details. *shrugs*

Awwww, too bad. If you were bored, I don't know if it would have gotten better for you. The pace is kind of slow, but I really liked the heroine.

July 20, 2013 at 4:53 PM  
Blogger Christina said...

Me too. I have a dress that looks sort of flapperish but still haven't had the guts to wear it (and I've had it since undergrad).

July 20, 2013 at 4:56 PM  
Blogger Christina said...

Anna had experienced so little of dealing with people, so she wasn't really prepared to make those judgment calls. Plus, she was all screwed up by her mom. I think that whole thing was really set up well.

Well, yeah, and I think the issues with her mom were sort of handled, even if it did feel rather tropey in the beginning. Everyone's not meant to be a mom.

July 20, 2013 at 5:01 PM  
Blogger Christina said...

Yes, the romance was there but didn't overwhelm plot at all. That was a nice change. Hahahaha, that's the worst ever. Altered had one of the worst moments of that ever.

July 20, 2013 at 5:06 PM  
Blogger Christina said...

In that case, you really should! It's a good one.

Oh cool, I added that one to my TBR. :)

July 20, 2013 at 5:08 PM  
Blogger Kara_Malinczak said...

I loved Anna too! I was not a fan of the romance(s), however. Still, really liked this one, though I did favor The Diviners more. I will read book two though because this was fun!

July 20, 2013 at 7:55 PM  
Blogger Christina said...

That pretty much sums it up. I pretty much ignored the romances, but it was really engaging because Anna was such a delight. Def reading the next one. I mean, RASPUTIN.

July 20, 2013 at 9:38 PM  
Blogger Bookworm1858 said...

Where aren't there more YA books set in the 1920s with gangsters? I would adore that (and cross-dressing musicians would be helpful too ;) I really loved the progression of the mother's character-she frustrated the heck out of me but I was always interested and wanting to know more because she seemed so complex.

July 23, 2013 at 12:39 AM  

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