Character-driven and entertaining fantasy fare
THEY say you should never judge a book by its cover, but how can you help it with Born Of Illusion?
The striking cover makes many promises: you expect mystery, intrigue, danger and just a touch of romance. And while the tale that subsequently unfolds may not be entirely enchanting, it definitely is entertaining.
Born Of Illusion revolves around Anna van Housen, a talented magician and escape artist who assists her mother Marguerite in stage performances and private seances. While her mother is nothing more than a cunning fake playing on the emotions of those longing to connect with a deceased loved one, Anna suspects she may just have powers that aren’t so practised. Supposedly Harry Houdini’s illegitimate daughter, Anna is able to sense emotions and glimpse the future.
When the duo settle in New York City, Anna hopes she can finally live a normal life. But after meeting mysterious British neighbour Cole Archer, becoming involved with the Society for Psychical Research and dealing with the charming Owen – who is pursuing her in earnest – Anna’s chance at a normal life looks slimmer than ever.
The situation spirals out of control when 16-year-old Anna begins battling her mother for control of the stage and the chance at her own show, a conflict tempered by the mysterious visions she begins to receive of her mother in grave peril.
Set in the glitzy, bootleg gin and tonic-laced 1920s, readers will fall in love with the fashion and glamour intricately outlined by Brown in her novel. Bursting with magic, thrilling stage shows, dashing men and a heady dollop of danger, Born Of Illusion is a safe bet if you’re looking for an entertaining young adult (YA) fiction read. Brown captures the jazz era with panache, drawing in plot twists that could have come off as clichéd – a mobster with a heart of gold, for instance – but thankfully don’t. Nothing is hashed to death, making for a quick, snappy read.
Born Of Illusion is well-paced and thoughtful; it’s refreshing to find a YA fic love triangle sub-plot where there’s no Romeo-and-Juliet style whirlwind feet-sweeping. Anna is savvy, smart, and level-headed. The love triangle, too, is not where the emotional meat of the story comes from: that honour goes to the relationship between Anna and her mother, something with which many girls can probably sympathise. Marguerite fears her daughter’s maturing while Anna is torn between resentment and loving duty.
Which is not to say the love triangle is dull – the dark-haired, secretive Cole measures up nicely against light, charming Owen who parties all night and promises romance at the drop of a hat. While it may not be too clear at the onset how the love triangle will culminate, you definitely end up rooting for the right person. The lack of fraught back-and-forth not only makes Anna a strong feminist character who isn’t defined by the men in the novel, but also makes for a nice change from the other YA supernatural mysteries in the market right now.
The book is strongly character driven, and Brown makes us fall in love with even the secondary roles to an extent where you don’t really mind some pointless meandering. Crotchety neighbour Mr Darby is particularly likable, with his protectiveness and sarcastic streak making for some lighthearted moments. There’s also vivacious flapper and trophy wife Cynthia, who is far more intelligent than she lets on, as well as the magnetically-written Houdini himself.
Born Of Illusion is the first in a series, with sequel Born Of Deception slated for a June 2014 release.