Genres: Historical Romance, YA Urban Fantasy
Published by Balzer + Bray
Released on April 22, 2014
A young lady partnering with her mother in an illusionist act in the Roaring Twenties of New York City is on a dangerous quest of discovery. Is her father the great Harry Houdini? And, while her mother’s mentalist routine is an act, Anna’s gift for visions, contacting the dead, and sensing emotion is not. I couldn’t help myself once I started looking for books dealing with magic and darker stories. Born of Illusion fit the bill nicely.
Born of Illusion is the first book in a Young Adult Historical series involving the stage world of magicians, mentalists, and mediums at seances against the glittery jiving and alive post-war world of the twenties. Anna and her mom have been a road act for as long as she can remember. The years have been tough working circuses and alone, dodging shifty managers, small town law, and always living a lie. Anna has a love-hate relationship going with her mother who coldly sees everything in relationship to HER act and her needs while also happy to exploit Anna’s supposedly being the illegitimate daughter of Harry Houdini. Now, they have a chance to settle in one place and go at least semi-legit with a popular act in New York City. If only her mother would stop doing the seances which were illegal if someone complained and always the part where her mother’s acting could be exposed. With the arrival of the mysterious and serious Cole, Anna’s connection to real magic seems to flair and scare her into needing to know more especially since she keeps getting a dark vision of her and her mother’s death. Suddenly, there is greater interest in her as a young woman and a talented magician. Life just got exciting and more complicated than ever.
My sister in law loved this book and loaned it to me a while back. I waited for the mood to kick in and it finally did with the advent of spooky reading month. I’ve never read a story set against the world of the magical stage and with it paired to the 1920’s era, I was already more than impressed. Anna is a very self-possessed girl of sixteen. She’s had to grow up fast between a less than maternal mother and their showmanship world. She has a complicated relationship with her driven mother. Anna is starting to feel the desire to step out of her mother’s shadow. She’s good at magic and wants to do more than be the assistant when her mother pretends to read minds or contact the dead. Anna hates the seances that trick people who are vulnerable and want to contact a dead loved one.
I enjoyed the ‘is she or isn’t she’ part of her being Houdini’s daughter. Her mom could be exploiting, but she also might be telling the truth. There are also several shades of gray characters around Anna that she has to figure out their motives and who is reliable. She might have psychic gifts, but it doesn’t mean she can’t be wrong in how she interprets what she gets from people since she has preconceived notions at times and, though its easy to forget at times, she’s a teenager and grew up isolated from some things. She gets caught up in her own head and this can slow the pace down, but not excessively so.
The part I could have done without was the mild love triangle. It was mild for two reasons. One, and blessedly so, the story didn’t focus entirely on romance and the bulk of the story was Anna’s search for the truth about herself and balanced all her interpersonal relationships. But, secondly, she liked both young men for different reasons, but it was obvious which one held a deeper connection for her. It’s YA so this part of the story is not concluded and will carry into the next book along with another important plot thread.
YA warnings: I don’t really have any. I found the elements hit the mild to moderate range and any YA age could pick this up with little concern.
In summary, I had a blast with the writing, the setting and background, the characters, and the twisting plot. I would definitely like to continue with the story. For those who enjoy historical YA with lots of magic and a dose of romance, give this one a try.