Hardcover, 352 pages
Expected publication: June 11th 2013 by Balzer & Bray
Anna Van Housen is thirteen the first time she breaks her mother out of jail. By sixteen she’s street smart and savvy, assisting her mother, the renowned medium Marguerite Van Housen, in her stage show and séances, and easily navigating the underground world of magicians, mediums and mentalists in 1920’s New York City. Handcuffs and sleight of hand illusions have never been much of a challenge for Anna. The real trick is keeping her true gifts secret from her opportunistic mother, who will stop at nothing to gain her ambition of becoming the most famous medium who ever lived. But when a strange, serious young man moves into the flat downstairs, introducing her to a secret society that studies people with gifts like hers, he threatens to reveal the secrets Anna has fought so hard to keep, forcing her to face the truth about her past. Could the stories her mother has told her really be true? Could she really be the illegitimate daughter of the greatest magician of all?
Born of Illusion is, I can tell because I have superior powers (just kidding), the first in a series. It will either be a trilogy, no, it most probably be a trilogy. The novel is set in the 20s, as, for some reason or another, YA novels are wont to be. The setting does not play as large a part in the novel as it does in Bray’s The Diviners but the narrative is nicely sprinkled with meaty tidbits that situate the reader firmly in that decade.
My favourite part of this novel is Anna van Housen. Oft times, in my experience at least, I may like a main character, I may even empathize with her but once the book is done she will be, ultimately, lost among all the other main characters so plentifully present in YA novels. Anna feels real. Her mommy issues are genuine and understandable and her small actions to separate herself and grow as a person in her own right rather than as an extension of her mother makes for intriguing reading. I think the dynamics of the relationship between mother and daughter with the layered conflicts and rich emotional payoff is what makes this novel so successful. Oh, the mythology, the paranormal aspect is gripping enough but Brown’s skill is in the way she creates believable and seemingly genuine relationships between people.
Anna’s mother is beautiful and uses this beauty and the accompanying charisma to further her business as a mentalist. She pretends to hear the voices of the dead and fleeces grieving parents/sons/daughters off their money. Oh and she also tells the world that Anna’s dad is Harry Houdini. The Houdini question is never answered explicitly but enough is implied that it is easy enough to read between the lines. Anna is the one who has the true powers, powers that she does not necessarily need or even want. There is a secretive society made up of magic practitioners and a supreme villain looking to harness the powers of the uninitiated for his own nefarious plans. Oh, there’s also this loveable inventor whose inventions come in very handy. All that’s missing is a talking cat but one can hope that the next few installments will provide that as well.
The romance I liked. There is a bit too much mush but I’m forgiving because the love interest is so interesting in his own right and evinces qualities that are not usually common to a love interest. He has a personality! Haha.
I had two main issues with this novel. First, the pacing seems intentionally slow. The novel is 352 pages and I think some tighter editing could have culled it down without losing anything but heightening the tension. The mystery, such as it was, was a bit too predictable and since I connected the dots so very easily, I wondered why Anna didn’t. Also, I wonder why there wasn’t more information given about Anna’s otherworldly powers but I have a feeling that Brown is saving that for the second book which, from the hint given to us at the end of this one, is going to be pretty darned awesome.
Get your hands on this book, guys. It has a wonderful protagonist, a kissable love interest and some fantastic action.