Author: Teri Brown
Genre: YA, historical, paranormal
Publication Date: June 11, 2013 (HarperTeen – North America)
Source: Publisher-provided ARC
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.
☆: 4.5/5 stars – a great debut that takes us back to the 20s!
Review: Guys, I loved this book. So much that I’m willing to forgive the almost-love triangle in this story. I definitely can’t wait until the next book in the series, due out next year. This book brings back the roaring ’20s (with its gin joints, speakeasies, dance parties and flappers) back with beautfiul, vibrant ease, so much so that when we came to the last page, I didn’t want to let go. If you’re looking for a new paranormal YA book that’s also historical fiction, you may want to take a chance on “Born of Illusion”.
The New York that was created by Brown in this book reminded me a whole lot of the version of “Great Gatsby” that Baz Luhrman put together for his film a few months ago – so much that all of the parties from that film, the dealings with Wolfsheim (whose true identity comes out in this book – I had no idea!) from the original “Gatsby” collided wonderfully in terms of timing of when I read this book and when the new version of “Gatsby” came out. Actually, the weekend I’d gone to see it, I’d just seen the film, so this related in creating a whole new kind of headcanon for me. Brown definitely knows how to build her world with a wonderful, whimsical vibrancy that actually leaped off the page, with all of its parties, spiritualism shows and seances, and general life in New York during the roaring ’20s. Brown built this world with a lot of research and incorporated that into Anna’s story really well, along with sensory imagery and language that made me sigh and want to wave over a TARDIS so I could go back and time and experience it all.
The character building was great, too – she brought Houdini to life with ridiculous ease, letting us get a feel for who he might have been with very little labor. Kids, this is how you can do both character building and worldbuilding at once (two birds, one stone) in historical fiction – do your research, even if your actual plot diverges from history a little bit. The characters helped build the world, and the world, the characters – which is really hard to do, but if you do it right, you come out with something like Brown’s world – beautiful, tangible, and mostly true to history. Anna’s character, not in history but based on medium fakes and the like, had a good historical base upon which to build things, and you could really feel her grow throughout the book during her personal journey arc. I loved that by the end, she found herself, who she wanted to be, and no longer an extension of her mother. It was quite satisfying to see that growth, and it wasn’t just Anna – by the end of the book, the main cast had shown significant growth, and it’s hard to grow a main character, much less an entire main cast within one book with so many pages. So giving a brofist to Brown there for being able to make that happen.
I also love the big reveals – the antagonists who really aren’t antagonists, and the helpful friends that really aren’t helpful friends all messes with your head, and definitely keeps you on your toes throughout the book. The two biggest reveals I can honestly say I didn’t see coming (maybe because I was so absorbed by the sensory aspects, I’m not quite sure), and it was refreshing to see the sort-of-love-triangle get cleanly broken off AND have an explosive climax/resolution to this installment in what looks to be a duology all at the same time. And as to whether or not Anna is Houdini’s daughter, well, Brown leaves us hanging there quite well. Not quite a cliffhanger as there is some resolution, but at the same time, not really answering that essential question that comes to be at the heart of Anna’s character.
Final verdict? If you’re looking for a good YA paranormal that’s also historical fiction (or vice versa), definitely go for “Born of Illusion”. I’m absolutely chomping at the bit for book two and in the YA historical category, has made my best of 2013 list. “Born of Illusion” is out now from HarperTeen, so be sure to check it out when you get the chance!