Author: Teri Brown
Genre: Historical Fiction, Fantasy, Coming-of-Age
Publication Date: June 11, 2013
Source: Publisher-provided ARC via Edelweiss
Summary: Anna Van Housen has a secret. 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?
From Teri Brown comes a world bursting with magic, with romance, and the temptations of Jazz Age New York—and the story of a girl about to become the mistress of her own destiny.
☆: 5/5 stars – I apologize for the pun, but this book really is magical and wraps you up in its mystique.
Since a young age, I’ve been enthralled by stage magic thanks to years of watching magic shows both on television and in-person. Just ask me about Dan Quayle the teleporting duck from Dirk Authur’s Vegas show! The stage magic tricks that make audiences believe they’re seeing real magic are works of art whether they’re simple or complex. I know many of these secret thanks to my fascination too and that’s why I respect them so. Born of Illusion offers a familiar peek into how magic works for someone like me, but its mix of a complicated relationship between Anna in her mother, genuine supernatural elements, and complex characters makes this novel one of my very rare five-star reads.
Anna is a heroine worth rooting for and it’s hard not to feel for her when she’s lived through the kind of life she has. Moving around for years and having to do things like break her mother out of jail on top of having powers she doesn’t understand would be hard on anyone and it shows. Though she can be sassy onstage and enjoys performing, she’s worn out. All she wants is to be able to both perform and live a normal life. She needs so much love and as the novel goes on, she finally gets it.
The development of the psychic-abilities element develops slowly, but it’s also kept subtle in order to keep from taking over Anna’s personal story as she settles into life in Jazz Age NYC, starts to wonder if the famous Harry Houdini is really her father like her mother insists, starts experiencing a normal life, and even explores romance with a boy or two. Her powers to sense emotions, see the future, and occasionally read minds provide the plot, along with a few tense kidnapping attempts and a mystery that builds slowly, but this novel is equal parts plot-driven and character-driven.
The character of Marguerite Van Housen, Anna’s fake-medium mother who has put her through so much in life, first grates on readers’ nerves and only seems to get worse as the novel goes on. Needing your child to break you out of police custody or jail? Putting her in charge of your finances at age twelve? Horrible! Their relationship as mother and daughter is fraught with distrust, anger, and resentment, but despite all the problems they have with one another, they still love one another and Marguerite is still a person. It’s only toward the end of the novel that we get a good sense of just how human she is with the help of Jacques, her manager.
I have two qualms. Just two. They’re so small that they aren’t worth deducting stars for. The plot becomes a little predictable toward the end and it’s easy to figure out who the antagonist is and what role other characters play in that person’s plot. Then there’s some confusion about Anna’s father. Her mother can’t remember Houdini’s eye color correctly, implying he’s not her father after all, but there is evidence at every other angle that he is–given even by the man himself. Perhaps this will be corrected in the final copy, but why that contradiction happened is never explained in the ARC.
If and when you can, get this book. With all luck, you won’t regret it and it will perform a little magic on you.