Book Review: Born of Illusion by Teri Brown

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Title: Born of Illusion

Author: Teri Brown

Series: Born of Illusion (#1)

Publisher: Balzer & Bray

Publication Date: 6-11-13

Pages: 373

Genre: Young Adult, Historical Fiction, Paranormal

Source: Library

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A gifted illusionist, Anna assists her mother, the renowned medium Marguerite Van Housen, in her stage show and séances, easily navigating the underground world of magicians, mediums, and mentalists in 1920’s New York. As the illegitimate daughter of Harry Houdini—or so Marguerite claims—sleight of hand illusions have never been a challenge for Anna. The real trick is keeping her own gifts secret from her opportunistic mother. Because while Marguerite’s own powers may be a sham, Anna possesses a true ability to sense people’s feelings and foretell the future.

But as Anna’s powers intensify, she begins to experience frightening visions of her mother in peril, which leads her to explore the powers she’s tried so long to hide. And when a mysterious young man named Cole moves into the flat downstairs, introducing Anna to a secret society that studies people with gifts like hers, she is forced to confront her past and rethink everything she’s ever known. Is her mother truly in danger, or are Anna’s visions merely illusion? And could the great Houdini really be her father, or is it just another of Marguerite’s tricks?

Short and Sweet

This book was so enthralling and such a quick read. As a YA historical fiction about magicians, this book was right up my alley. I loved the descriptions of the magic shows, and the relationship between Anna and her mother. There is a love triangle, it didn’t dominate the plot or take away from the story. I’ll definitely be continuing on with this series!

My Review

Born of Illusion was a pleasant surprise. I was hesitant to start another series, but decided to jump in anyway, because it had come pretty highly recommended, and I was more than a little transfixed by its beautiful cover and the idea of illusionists in the 1920s. After reading The Diviners by Libba Bray earlier this month, I wasn’t sure that anybody else’s writing of this magical time in history would be able to compare. While I think that I liked Bray’s writing slightly more, I was very impressed by Brown’s lyrical prose and captivating descriptions of New York City in its prime.

For a long, breathless moment we wait, time spinning into an eternity, while the excitement in my chest bursts. As the red curtain rises, my mother releases my hand and steps forward…Because of the stage lights, my mother’s silhouette is all I see as the velvet curtain makes its silent ascent into the darkness. The blinding spotlight looks like a sun rising on the horizon, and though I can’t see the people in the audience, the scent of perfume and expensive cigar smoke assures me of their presence, as does the excessively polite, well-bred clapping. 

As a huge fan of magic, I was very excited to be thrown into the world of Anna and her mother, who have traveled the country in hopes of making the “big time” with their combination magician-mentalist show. But while Anna’s mother is merely a gifted actress, Anna was born with something a little more special, although she isn’t quite sure what it is or how to use it.

Trying to learn more about herself and her powers, Anna runs into multiple people in the city who try and give her advice about what she should do, but she doesn’t know who she can trust or who is just trying to take advantage of her. When she meets two friendly boys her own age, who both seem interested in what she can do, she feels torn between the two emotionally, and doesn’t know who to turn to.

The best part of this book is the complicated relationship between Anna and her mother. Right from the very first page, you realize that there is a lot of conflict between the two, and they are both very competitive when it comes to performing. For the whole novel, I wasn’t sure if I liked Anna’s mother, or even trusted her, but her true personality is slowly exposed as the story continues, and the reader begins to understand why she is the way she is.

Our fortunes have gone up and down over the years, but my mother has never lost her ruthless poise. Whether she’s in a cheap boardinghouse in the Midwest or in the drawing rooms of the rich, she is always the same — regal, mysterious, and completely at ease. I might admire her if she wasn’t my mother. 

At the same time, Anna’s character is also transforming and growing. Having lived without a father and a mother she can’t quite rely on for her whole life, Anna realizes that she needs to become more independent and starts to become more of her own person apart from her mother. I loved Anna’s character, and I really rooted for her throughout the novel as she emerges into adulthood and we see her become more self-confident, powerful, and mature.

Whether or not Houdini is my father, whether or not my mother loves me, I would still be me. A girl who loves magic. A girl with strange abilities. I will never be a normal girl. But maybe, just maybe, that’s all right. 

Ultimately, I was forced to give this book only 4 stars instead of 5, because the ending of this book was quite predictable. Somebody that has become Anna’s friend during the story ends up being untrustworthy, and it is almost immediately apparent from pretty early on who that is going to be (at least for me), and only gets more obvious by the end.

And, while I enjoyed the love triangle between Anna, Cole, and Owen, I found myself getting bored with that aspect of the plot at times, and wishing that Anna would stop thinking so much about boys and do some more magic instead.

Overall, I really loved this book, am anxiously awaiting the release of the next book in the series, and would definitely recommend it to anybody interested in magic, the supernatural, or the 1920s.

(see this review on Goodreads)

My Rating

4 Anchors

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