Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Born of Illusion by Teri Brown

Born of Illusion
by Teri Brown
Read: April 29 - May 1, 2013
Published: June 11, 2013 by Balzer & Bray
Source: Around the World Arc Tours 
Category: 1920s Historical Fiction with Fantasy elements

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? (From Goodreads)


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I have a confession to make about Born of Illusion. I got almost 90% into this story and did not care what happened to any of the characters, so I just skimmed the rest of the book. That almost never happens to me. I probably would not have even made it that far if I hadn't been reading it for a a book tour. 

The 1920s are a fascinating time period to read about, and thankfully many authors are exploring it these days. With the spiritualist movement, magic, prohibition, speakeasies, silent films, revolutions in women’s fashion, and general prosperity, it was an exciting time in America. Although Born of Illusion features many of these elements, the book fell flat for me, largely because I did not find any of the characters compelling, or actually the story either. My favorite character by far was Mr. Darby the crotchety neighbor downstairs, who was a lower level secondary. 

Anna is our narrator, and she is the daughter of the renowned medium Marguerite Van Housen. Anna assists her mother in her stage shows and séances, although Anna herself prefers magic to spiritualism. While Mrs. Van Housen is more of an actress than a real medium, Anna has her own mental gifts that she keeps hidden from her mother, whom is more interested in her career than her daughter. Anna's mother has been performing as long as Anna can remember, and together they have traveled widely. But despite all of her life experiences and psychic talents, Anna came across as dense and overly naïve at times. The book description above made Anna sound way more badass than she ever seemed to me. It is also clear that the reader is supposed to sympathize with Anna's struggle to live with her ambitious and neglectful mother. However, Anna and her mom both treated each other terribly. They had an awful passive aggressive relationship, each constantly undermining the other. It was childish, annoying and didn't ring true to me. I hoped for better from Anna at least. 

Then there was the uncomfortable pseudo love triangle that popped up in this story. One guy I liked from the beginning, though I thought he was overly mysterious for no real reason that I could understand. Even when he told Anna why he'd kept information from her, I didn’t buy it. As for the other guy, I cringed whenever he came onscreen. It was clear that he had ulterior motives, or at least wasn’t a real option on any deep level. I was mystified why Anna kept saying she was into him. For all of Anna's abilities to sense other people’s emotions she was terrible at reading people. Or at least she was overly naïve around guys, despite all of the traveling, living and breaking her mom out of jail that she’s done.

As for the general plot, I thought that Anna’s work as a magician and illusionist was really cool, as well as the history of the spiritualist movement. It was really fascinating to get the behind the scenes of the séance and medium tricks, and see the culture of the 1920s. But without compelling characters or a story line to grab me, the social setting wasn’t enough to keep this book afloat. Also, I’m not sure what I thought about the supernatural aspect of this book. For me what’s most interesting about the spiritualists is that it was all fake, but this book throws in real supernatural aspect that never really grabbed me. I wish that the author had gone bigger with it or left it out completely (though I realize that this book would not be a book without those elements, so take that as you will).

I think the book cover is beautiful at least! 


Love Triangle Factor: Medium 
Cliffhanger Scale: I believe this is a standalone. Possible companion series. 

5 comments:

  1. A love triangle and flat characters you can't care for? Between you and Heather, I'll definitely be skipping this one. I love the 1920s (and the cover for this) and have seen a fair amount of positive reviews, but love triangles are just not for me. Thanks for such a helpful review, Lauren!(:

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  2. Clearly the 1920s are incredibly interesting, but I think Libba Bray did excellent work with that and I feel no need to read another one of those stories. Plus, the love triangle would bother me immensely, as it always does, especially one that is so poorly done. I'd probably enjoy the bits about the history of spiritualism, but that alone isn't enough to make me want to read this. *sigh* Too bad, really.
    Great review, Lauren!

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  3. I love the 1920s! However, when I first read "Mr. Darby" on here, I thought of Mr. Darcy so I hope that doesn't mess me up. The book cover IS really beautiful, but my gosh, another love triangle of sorts? *grumbles*

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  4. Sorry you didn't like this one, Lauren! Uninteresting, flat characters wouldn't work for me either. Too bad you had to skim it. Though I do like that era, I think I'll skip it. Thanks for the review :)

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  5. Oh a confession like yours is not a good one at all. That's really unfortunate you didn't feel as though you could connect with any of the story's characters. The premise just sounds so interesting, and I agree with you that the 20s are such an interesting time period and one that we should revisit through literature and film again and again. It sounds like I won't be revisiting it through the lens of this book, however. Characterization matters too much to me to ignore your thoughts on this. I hope that the next book you read that takes place in the 20s leaves you with a better reading experience, Lauren!

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