Thursday, September 5, 2013
Review: Born of Illusion by Terri Brown
Title: Born of Illusion (Born of Illusion, #1)
Author: Terri Brown
Rating: 4 Stars
Born of Illusion falls into that inevitably irritating category of novels which have received a mixed bag of reviews. A handful of my trust reviewers loved, another handful really enjoyed this, and still another group of them just couldn't connect with this one. Thus, I did what any reader would do: sit tight, wait, and make a decision concerning this novel after reviews of its sequel trickled in. Well, guess who was well and truly hypnotized upon seeing the breathtaking cover of this at the library? So thoroughly hypnotized that I check it out and proceeded to start reading it that very night (with deliberate sneaks at the cover from time-to-time, of course)?
Needless to say, I haven't regretted my love affair with the cover of this book. (An affair that quickly disintegrated as my heart turned its attentions to Cole. Yes, yes, I know - my heart is fickle.) Set in the 1920s, Born of Illusion follows the tale of Anna, the reputed illegitimate daughter of Houdini. A talented magician, Anna and her mother have traveled all their life, performing shows to earn their wages. When they move to New York, however, a string of strange occurrences begin, from Anna's visions about her mother in danger to a mysterious follower. If Anna isn't careful, someone could be about to trick her...
From the beginning itself, I absolutely loved Anna's narration. Anna isn't afraid to have a fair bit of fun in her life and on stage she's spectacular, capturing the audience and stealing the show with her genuine magical abilities. Yet, behind that exterior, she is also deeply vulnerable, unsettled by her past and her tumultuous relationship with her mother. Although Anna can read people's emotions with a single touch, she still struggles to connect with others, having only her mother to rely on in life. And that, my dear readers, is where Born of Illusion not only excels, but stuns. Anna's relationship with her mother is complicated a sticky, a mix of natural jealousy between two talented performers and affection. One of my favorite aspects of this tale is that Anna not only comes to understand her mother better, but along the way she also understands herself better. Furthermore, she comes to accept that her mother's dreams and her own dreams don't necessarily align and that is okay. For me, this is such an integral and important message: that's it's okay to break away from the life you've always known and what something different, no matter what age you are. We see this both with Anna and her mother, which I really loved. It's so rare to see such realistic and well-portrayed mother-daughter relationships, so this is a definite keeper.
Nevertheless, it should be noted that the plot of Born of Illusion is a bit of after-thought. It isn't a central aspect of the novel, though it is interesting. If anything, Anna herself drives this novel forward, which I loved. Although the story line is intriguing - filled with strange happenings, kidnappings, and ransom notes, it did become slightly predictable at the end. And yet, despite that, it is thoroughly enjoyable. It is impossible to really tear away from this book or become detached from the plot because Anna's tale is simple so engrossing. At every turn I was always eager to read how Anna would react, feel her rush of feelings, and learn more about her world. Brown writes captivating seances and magic shows, truly building up the suspense and allowing us to glimpse another facet of Anna's personality. Furthermore, I adored the world Brown has created. As a historical fiction tale, Born of Illusion works well, though, I must admit, not as excellent as Libba Bray's The Diviners. I wish this novel was a touch more atmospheric, but the depth of the research done really showed.
Another thing to love about Born of Illusion? It takes the love triangle trope and makes it work. For one thing, the two "love interests" at hand - Cole and Owen - are never truly vying for Anna's attentions. I even hesitate to call them love interests because it's obvious where Anna's heart lies. Nevertheless, what I liked about the romance was that it was a bit of a slow-burn and very sweet. I don't know about you, but I'm a little - okay, VERY - tired of bad boys. I mean, please, find some new cliched phrases! I love a shy guy more than anything else, so that was a very pleasant change. Furthermore, the love triangle was revealed to be an important plot necessity and even when Anna was with the other boy, those scenes were integral to the story line and world. Considering I was never frustrated by this love story - only because I knew who Anna liked - I was able to sit back and really enjoy the way the romance played out in this.
Ultimately, Born of Illusion isn't one to pass up. If you're like me, you probably can't pass it up because you've been hypnotized by the cover, but if - somehow - you've resisted the allure of that gorgeous hardback, then you should definitely check this out if you're a fan of historical fiction, the 1920s, or just Houdini. Although the novel doesn't focus on the man himself, there are plenty of mentions, not to mention thrilling tricks, within these pages. Born of Illusion isn't a thought-provoking or ground-breaking read, but it's engaging and just so much fun. And sometimes, that's all you need on a rainy summer night: a smile on your face and pretty book to curl up with.