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.
I decided to read Born of Corruption in preparation for Born of Deception‘s release, but was kind of disappointed by it. Narrated by Anna’s friend Cynthia, the story takes place at Anna’s going away party at Cynthia’s house, where an unexpected tragedy takes place that needs to be solved by the remaining partygoers.
It was basically like a 1920s YA novella version of Clue, expect not anywhere near as good. I think that it had the potential to be a cool little story, but it was just too short to have enough development to make it anything other than mediocre. Cynthia’s first-person narration kind of drove me nuts, and I didn’t become interested enough in the story for it to feel like the mystery had big stakes.
It was okay…but I’m kind of less excited to read Born of Deception after how lackluster this one was.
*Includes minor spoiler for the first book*
I thought about maybe sugar-coating this review a little bit…but, to be honest, I was extremely disappointed in this book. After reading and liking Born of Illusion last year, I was excited for the continuation of Anna’s story. But I felt like everything that I enjoyed about the first book was left out of this one. I was hoping that the not-so-amazing novella, Born of Corruption, was just a fluke, but it turns out that this series just isn’t very good. I didn’t even love the first one, I just really liked a few parts of it.
My favorite part of Born of Illusion was the twisted mother-daughter relationship dynamic between Anna and her mother. But in Born of Deception, Anna sees her mother for basically two short conversations and that’s it. There’s not even any kind of resolution to their relationship. It’s just kind of left as is, with no development or intrigue at all. This was a major problem of the book for me. Why take the first book’s best element and completely obliterate it in the second book? It felt like an entirely different series!
I also thought that the whole séance/magic/ghost elements were pretty cool in the first book…but, again, they weren’t very present in Born of Deception either. There are a few cool scenes, like when Anna does her one séance of the whole book, but her powers and magic are pretty much nonexistent for the rest of the book besides using them to create problems and events. Like, for example, the whole reason she’s in Europe in this book is to be on an entertainment tour for which she does her magic act. But the amount of magic we actually see her do is very minimal…the tour is only used as a plot point — like, to create Billy, a *rolls eyes* point in the now-love triangle with Anna and Cole, who works on the tour with Anna.
And that brings up another disappointing element of this book. Way too much time is spent on developing Anna’s romantic relationships with Billy and Cole. The whole book, Anna is constantly whining about Cole and how things feel different now that they’re in England together. The only time she’s not complaining, she’s swooning over Billy. I kind of thought that this series was better than that whole “this book is paranormal, but only as a backdrop to the romance” thing that we see in YA all the time. But apparently it’s not.
The final element to this book was the issue of the Society. Cole is a member of this Society for Sensitives like himself and Anna, which serves to bring them together to help control their powers and do research. Pretty quickly, things take a turn to the dark side when a member turns up ritually sacrificed and everybody’s suddenly in danger. I think that I had figured out the “whodunit” in…Chapter Three. But the whole book, I kept making myself feel better by trying to convince myself that this person was clearly just a super obvious red herring. Well, guess what. She wasn’t a super obvious red herring, she was an EXTREMELY obvious actual culprit. After spending this whole book being upset about the lack of scenes with Anna and her mother, and then the obtrusive focus on romance instead of cool magic and paranormal stuff, I was just so upset when I realized that the mystery was totally bogus as well. Ugh.
Luckily, this series is only two books long. I just had so much hope for Born of Deception, and unfortunately it didn’t live up to my expectations. I’m pretty bummed.