Born of Illusion by Teri Brown
Series: Born of Illusion #1
Genre: YA, historical fiction, supernatural
Published on June 11, 2013
Published by Balzer + Bray
Read From: 10.15.13 - 10.18.13
Anna Van Housen has a secret.
A gifted illusionist, Anna assists her mother, the renowned medium Marguerite Van Housen, in her stage show and seances, easily navigating the underground world of magicians and mentalists in 1920s New York. For Anna, the illegitimate daughter of Harry Houdini - or so Marguerite claims - handcuffs and sleight-of-hand illusions have never been much of a challenge. The real trick is keeping her own gifts secret from her mother, because while Marguerite's powers may be a sham, Anna possesses a true ability to sense people's feelings and foretell the future.
But as Anna's powers intensity, she experiences frightening visions of her mother in peril, which lead her to explore the abilities she's tried so long to hide. And when a mysterious young man named Cole moves into the flat downstairs, introducing Anna to a society that studies people with gifts like hers, she begins to wonder if there's more to life than keeping secrets.
As her visions become darker and her powers spin out of her control, Anna is forced to rethink all she's ever known. Is her mother truly in danger, or are Anna's visions merely illusions? And could the great Houdini be her father, or is it just another of Marguerite's tricks?
Characters: Anna was a much better protagonist than I thought she would be. She was intelligent and sensible and sympathetic. While she accuses herself of being shameful and selfish and improper, she really is quite the opposite. Anna has put her life's dream on hold for her thankless mother, she looks after them, making sure they always have enough money for food, while her mother spends it all on frivolities. And though it turns out that Anna has misjudged her mother's motivations, I couldn't blame her one second when she finally took matters into her own hands and told her mother to shove off (not in so many words, but the implication was there). I really disliked Mrs. Van Housen for holding Anna back and being so mean to her just to be spiteful. As for the two love interests, Cole and Owen - I loved them! I liked Cole right off, with his quiet friendliness and gentlemanly ways and his genuine care and concern for Anna's wellbeing. And Owen was a flirtatious fop whose over-dramatics were just funny. Though as the story went on, I began to dislike how he teased Cole and thought him to be rather too presumptuous. He, in short, was one of those characters that the Reader starts off really liking, but then begins to grow a little suspicious and irritated with them. I didn't trust Dr. Bennett right off, and I admit that I did get a little frustrated with Anna for trusting him as much as she did (though to her credit, she didn't trust him all that much). Cynthia was awesome; I adored her, despite how frivolous and silly she was. She was just too amusing and a good friend when there was truly need.
The Romance: With two guy characters, both vying for Anna's attention, one would expect a rather prominent love triangle. But the truth is it's not very prominent at all, and in fact can hardly be called a love triangle. Anna finds Owen and Cole both attractive, that's true enough, and Cole and Owen have a rivalry. But it's pretty evident from the beginning that Anna's attachment to Owen is more friendly and her attachment to Cole more romantic. Which, of course, only endeared Anna to me more, because she behaves so sensibly about this. So, no real complaints with the romance; it's handled very well indeed.
Plot: Anna Van Housen hasn't lived a conventional life. Brought up among circus performers, mediums, illusionists, and magicians, she's met a lot of fascinating people, learned many of the tricks of the trade, and is not at all considered a presentable young woman. Now that her and her mother, the renowned medium Madame Van Housen, are living in New York and performing for rich society people, Anna must learn to conduct herself in a more appropriate manner; something which Anna finds a bit difficult. She enjoys performing sleight of hand and illusions too much to be presentable - not to mention that her mother claims that Anna is the illegitimate daughter of the famous Harry Houdini. And her and her mother's nightly show at a local theater hardly presents Anna with an opportunity to perform, since Mrs. Van Housen is afraid her more talented daughter will steal the spotlight from her. At night, Anna and Mrs. Van Housen hold private seances in their apartment to supplement their meager income. Seances are illegal in 1920s New York, and Anna is constantly worried that her and mother will be caught out - not to mention that Anna hates preying on the despair and grief of others'. But during one of the seances, a real spirit is summoned. And it chooses Anna to communicate through. Anna has always had remarkable gifts, of course; future-telling dreams, the ability to detect people's emotions through touch. These gifts Anna has always hidden from her mother, for fear of her jealousy and being exploited. But she's never been able to communicate with spirits before . . . And the only thing that has changed is the arrival of a mysterious young man in the flat below: Cole. Could he be responsible for her heightened gifts? If so, why? And what does he know about her abilities? Added to these worries is the alarming realization that someone is out to harm Anna and her mother. A rival medium? Or is it someone far more sinister? The plot is somewhat slower paced than one might initially think. There is a bit of mystery, but the majority of the book is spent with Anna struggling with whether or not to believe her mother about Harry Houdini being her father, and Anna learning about her gifts. There's a constant sense of menace and foreshadowing that keeps the plot from completely lagging, and the conclusion does deliver in that area. As soon as the plot begins to feel lethargic, something exciting always happens. Besides, I can't deny that I enjoyed the world building. The 1920s is a fascinating era, and added to that was the world of mediums, illusionists, magicians, and escape artists. A combination that I just can't resist. Such things - especially in that era - have always fascinated me. So while the plot could have been a bit faster paced than it was, I personally really enjoyed it the way it was.
Believability: Nothing to complain about.
Writing Style: First person, present tense. I hardly noticed the present tense, it worked so amazingly well. The style had the proper '20s vibe, and Anna had a great narration voice. Living a hard life with a mother who is constantly jealous, Anna somehow managed to talk about all of this without sounding whiny, but matter-of-fact instead.
Conclusion: The villain was, I'll admit, rather obvious. With a rather small cast of characters, there wasn't much to pick from. Nevertheless, it was a good villain who didn't monologue too much. The only problem with the end was it was a bit anticlimactic. The face-off and escape went too smoothly and a little too fast. When I first began Born of Illusion, I thought I would mind the whole "illegitimate daughter of famous person" plot device. I don't normally like that kind of twist because it can 1) be cheesy, and 2) be rather slanderous to the person's name. To imply that a person - a real person, I might add - had a sexual affair with someone, when there is absolutely no proof, is rather inconsiderate to that person's name and reputation. And while it's hinted that Houdini is more than likely Anna's father, it is also not confirmed, so I didn't mind this plot device as much as I usually do. Born of Illusion surprised me. I had read a lot of mixed reviews, and with a potential love triangle and a young woman protagonist who didn't totally adhere to propriety - as well as being a rumored illegitimate daughter to a famous person, - I didn't have very high hopes myself. But it was a very good book, with excellent characters, an interesting plot, and a good writing style.
Recommended Audience: Girl-read, fifteen-and-up, fans of historical fiction with hint of supernatural will find this enjoyable, especially if they're historical fiction fans who find the topic of 1920s illusionists, mediums, and Harry Houdini interesting.