Monday, June 24, 2013

Review: Born of Illusion


Born of Illusion by Teri Brown
Published: June 11, 2013 by Balzer & Bray


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?
*An ARC was provided by Balzer & Bray in exchange for an honest review* 


Born of Illusion is a book I fell in love with the moment I found out about it.  Beyond it's attractive cover, it promised to be a tale of mediums, magicians and yes, illusion.  Set in New York in the 1920's, the jazzy backdrop and mysterious tone...even mentions of Harry Houdini made this historical tale with paranormal elements made this impossible to resist.  I'll admit that I hesitated for a split second before cracking open the cover, because honestly it almost sounds almost too good to be true!  Could it live up to all I was building it up to be in my head?  The answer? Oh yes, yes it could!  It so could, that I can hardly stand it!

Our main character, Anna, is a gifted illusionist and assistant to her famous 'medium' mother.  Anna's entire life has be spent in the underground world of séances, mentalists and deception.  Which is a good thing because Anna has secrets of her own.  The supposed illegitimate daughter of Harry Houdini himself, according to her mother, Anna already draws enough stares and unwanted attention as it is.  If the truth ever got out...if people really knew that Anna can see the future & that she can sense other people's feelings? Well Anna can't even bear thinking about it.   Soon though, she may not have much choice.  As her powers become stronger and stronger, she begins to have chilling visions of her mother in grave danger and Anna is faced with a choice: should she open herself up to her powers and risk exposure - if it means she might be able to keep her mother safe?  As if Anna doesn't have enough to be getting on with as it is, a dark and equally mysterious boy just happens to move downstairs and Anna has to wonder if and how he could be connected to all of this, before it's too late.

Born of Illusion started off a bit slow admittedly, but I didn't really mind because I was able to fully soak up the time period and setting.  New York City in the roaring 20's must have been something to behold and Teri Brown did a spectacular job bringing it to life before my very eyes. From the fashion to the descriptions of the city life...the way a character would turn a phrase or use an expression, everything was brilliantly woven into the story & used to full-effect.  I was truly fascinated by the life of magic and illusion that Anna was a part of in her day to day life and the time-period chose was fit to a tee because in the early 1900's, the whole world seemed to be brimming with possibilities.  Advances in science and technology would have seemed like magic to many and the author did a fantastic job of utilizing these tools to build a rich atmosphere dripping with intrigue, mystery and just the right touch of fantasy!

The cast of characters in Born of Illusion is kept reasonably small, which I found quite refreshing.  I feel like a lot of the books I read lately feel almost overstuffed with superfluous characters. In this case specifically, I felt keeping the number of characters on a smaller scale gave the book an added mystique and definitely fit with the tone of the plot.  Each character was introduced for a purpose, even if it wasn't always clear right away what that purpose was.   As a main character, I warmed to Anna quickly and my affection for her only grew as the story unfolded.  I love a girl who can think on her feet in a pinch and Anna was all that and more.  Her love of performing and making the audience wonder never failed top put a smile on my face and her quiet resolve was something I really admired about her - I could easily be friends with someone like Anna!  

Another aspect that really worked for me was Anna's complicated relationship with her mother.  Generally speaking, I'm consistently surprised when an MC in YA fiction has a living parent to begin with.  Orphans seem to be a prerequisite nowadays, or maybe it's always been the case...I don't know.  It just instantly feels fresh to me when the protagonist has even one parent. Beyond that though,  Anna and her mother are simultaneously very different and quite similar in a way that causes them immense conflict with warmer, more normal moments thrown in.  I relished uncovering bits of their shared past and how their adventures & misadventures have made them into the women they are today, both separately and as a team.  

There is romance in Born of Illusion but it is of the slow-burn and very believable variety.  There is even the beginning of  a love triangle but fear not: it's short lived!  Soon enough it becomes fairly obvious that there's only one real choice to be had here.  I'm usually not a fan of the dreaded triangle but if there's a purpose to it, or if it's handled properly it can be enjoyable - and in this case it was! The two boys in question: Cole and Owen clearly have different intentions, both where the plot is concerned and also as far as their relationship with Anna.  In any case, I had fun watching it all unfold!

Born of Illusion was quite simply filled to the brim with mystery & allure .  The possibilities felt endless, and Teri Brown certainly took full advantage of her playing field, in my opinion.  This tale was deliciously plotted & executed and though it wasn't entirely perfect, it was the perfect balance of early 20th century ambiance with a touch mysticism thrown in for good measure. I wanted to fully immerse myself in this world and never come back up for air. 

Reminiscent of The Prestige by Christopher Nolan (featuring Christian Bale and Hugh Jackman) & The Illusionist by Neil Burger (featuring Edward Norton, Paul Giamatti & Jessica Biel) but with a fresh YA twist!  Born of Illusion is simply too much fun to pass up!


18 comments:

  1. Oh, what a great review - I am adding Born of Illusion to my TBR asap! Thanks for sharing Micheline :)

    Happy reading.

    Lexxie @ (un)Conventional Bookviews

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    1. Oh YAY! I hope you'll have as much of a blast with it as I did :D I look forward to reading your thoughts on it! Thanks Lexxie

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  2. Great review hun! I really want to read this one myself! Like you, I love the time period and the performance/magic/illusion aspects. It also sounds like the relationships between characters are complex and layered, which is always enjoyable :) And I'm glad to hear the triangle is short-lived! Also agree with you about the parent thing. I don't see all that many orphans, but somehow the parents are often kind of absent or uninvolved in their kids' lives.
    (Oh and by the way I love The Prestige and I've wanted to see The Illusionist for ages!)

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    1. If I remember correctly, it was one of your WoW posts that introduced me to Born of Illusion! I hope you can get your hands on it soon & that you'll love it like I did ♥ The Prestige is brilliant isn't it?! I hope you can also check out The Illusionist soon :D Thanks for the awesome comment doll XO

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  3. I so want to read this one!! It looks so amazing, so I'm really happy to see that you loved it! Especially as there is actually a relationship between the MC and her mother, I can't wait to read about it. Fantastic review! :)

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    1. Thanks so much Hollie! I know, an MC with a living and present parent - shocking right?! Anyways hope you'll get to read this one soon & that you'll LOVE it :)

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  4. This sounds really cool! I need to check it out!

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  5. Anna sounds awesome, the story sounds awesome, and yay for a slow burn romance!! I love that kind. I also love the parental involvement. It seems like more and more YA books are finally doing that lately and I like it. Great review chick!!

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    1. You're right, there's a whole lot of awesome going on! And I agree, slow-burn romances kick insta-loves right in the face! Oh and I'm loving seeing some parental involvement, it still comes off as rare to me after years of orphans o_O Thanks love XO

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  6. As I read your review, I was thinking of how this book reminded me of The Prestige, and then you mentioned the movie at the end! :D I love the sound of this, especially the 1920's NYC setting. Awesome review, Micheline!

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    1. No way?! Cool :D Well magicians+illusion+early 20th century right? That spells awesome to me!! And the NYC setting will be an even bigger treat for someone like you who lived there for so long, I'm sure :) Thanks Lee!

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  7. Ooh dude we actually agreed on a book! haha. I'm so happy you enjoyed it especially with such high expectations I know how excited you were for this one. I think the pacing in this one was a good idea, though. It helped bringing the setting and characters to life before things got serious. I was never bored once and I actually found the pacing pretty steady overall - probably bc I was so caught up in the atmosphere of it all. This book is also one of the very very rare cases where the triangle totally worked. It's obvious who she really wants from the start even if she's thrown together with both of them - mostly bc of her mom's meddling, too.

    Aaanyways, so happy we both enjoyed this one!! :)

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    1. Bahahaha - Aaww come on, we've agreed on other books!! There's the HP series, Hunger Games, Fever, Twilight (even though you're Team Jacob in the movies! :P lol) Charley Davidson...and uhm that might be it?! So, it looks like we mostly agree on the HUGE popular series, that like, everyone loves >.< I agree with you on the pacing, it was good and helped absorb the mood...but at the same time I was ready to dive into the meatier bits of the plot. My curiosity was killing, but I was never bored either -that ambiance and mystic could have satisfied me for days on end :)

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  8. Oh, I had the same thought upon reading the blurb for this one for the first time - it must be too good to be true! So I'm ecstatic that you did in fact truly love this one even with the built up expectations. I also instantly thought of those two magician movies when I read the blurb. There's just sooo much to love here, even if it wasn't completely perfect. I would be probably most excited for the 1920s setting, honestly! Especially now that I know it was so well done. I know what you mean about superfluous characters, so I'm glad to hear you say that because I am often annoyed by that. I'm very curious about the mother-daughter relationship, even more so than the romance because I agree, it's just so refreshing to see something there at all! So, I definitely need to read this now. You've convinced me - really, really great review!

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    1. The blurb, the time period,magicians and then that stunning cover made it hard for me NOT to get my hopes up - so I'm relived about that bit too hehe...especially considering how much I do love The Prestige & The Illusionist ♥ Add that with no pointless characters filling spaces and a parent that's not only living, but part of the larger plot = WIN. I hope you'll love it just as much Aylee :)

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  9. So glad you enjoyed it, sweetie! I was a lot of fun to read, great and thoughtful review!

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    1. Awww glad to hear you enjoyed it too :D Thanks Kara!

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