Illuminate (Gilded Wings #1)
by Aimee Agresti
Harcourt Children’s, 2012
When Haven Terra and two of her classmates (one of which is her best friend, Dante) are chosen for a prestigious internship at a beautifully restored hotel in downtown Chicago, she’s hardly sure what to think. Upon arrival, she’s instantly surrounded by the most beautiful, talented people, once of which – Lucian – instantly captures her attention. When he starts to return her interest, at first she can hardly believe her luck. But it soon becomes apparent that there’s more going on at the hotel than meets the eye, and Haven finds herself thrust right in the middle of a battle between good and evil. Along the way she discovers truths about herself, and, with the help of a magical book, must find a way to bring everyone at the hotel down.
I actually suggested this book for purchase for my local library, because the synopsis sounded really interesting (and I am determined to find a good angel book). They agreed, which meant I could save some money and not have to purchase it myself. Yay for that!
Let me start this review by stating (perhaps) the obvious: this is a very long book. At 514 pages, it was a really hefty tomb to carry around and read. (Seriously, it made the bag I carry to work SO HEAVY.) There were portions of the book – particularly the monotony of the daily internship duties – that became tedious and rather slow-moving. Haven, also, is one of those girls who is very book smart but perhaps not so wise in the common sense department. However, I found Haven a really fun narrator (occasional stupidity aside) and liked watching through her eyes as she slowly became more and more confident in herself. Haven has some physical flaws that she really focuses on throughout the first portion of this book, to the point where she dresses to hide them and is very very ashamed of them. But at the end, she kind of realizes that they’re not a big deal, and accepts them and just deals with them in a way that I found really refreshing. One thing I will say is that, for someone who calls herself a “tomboy”, she sure pays a lot of attention to what others are wearing. Maybe this is because of the gay best friend, Dante, who is always taking her shopping, but I found it a little odd that someone who professes she doesn’t care about clothes pays so much attention to them.
Lucian immediately interested me, because I wanted to know his story. I figured his attention towards Haven wasn’t completely legit, but he paid SO much attention to her that I was conflicted and couldn’t quite figure out what was going on with him. I liked that we got to learn his story as the book progressed [SPOILER] and wonder if we’ll perhaps see him again in the series; I hope we do, but am not sure how it would work [/SPOILER]. I was also intrigued by Aurelia, and thought she was a really terrific villain. You got to see a bit of everything from her, and I just really found her well-developed.
This book uses some of the old Chicago history of Capone and his gangsters to build the world of the hotel, and I found all of the little tidbits and secret passages very interesting to read about. There is a lot of dialogue in this book, not only when Haven and others are speaking, but dialogue is the way Haven discovers what’s truly going on at the hotel; she’s listening, not actively doing anything herself. While I mentioned that the specifics of Haven’s tasks became a bit tedious, I actually enjoyed the look at what exactly an internship requires, and the little daily tasks that Haven and Lance had to deal with every day, on top of trying to figure out what to do about the overarching problem of the Great Evil brewing. I probably didn’t mind it as much, though, because of the growing friendship between Lance and Haven, which really progressed on their daily trips into the city to take care of hotel business.
One thing that made me eye roll a bit is that, again, Haven is supposed to be book smart, but she instantly starts listening to this magical book that somehow found her and keeps showing up in her line of sight when she’s trying to ignore it. Perhaps it’s the Harry Potter fan in me, but I am instantly leery of books that talk to the main characters and don’t actually provide any concrete advice or help. I was surprised with how Haven just instantly starts trusting it and following its instructions, especially considering where she is, in a hotel where there are truly treacherous and untrustworthy people. Anyone could have been writing to her, especially since the tasks it sets for her are inherently dangerous and place her in harms way multiple times. But she just continues to blindly follow, without any true attempt to ignore it.
I could tell that this book had something to do with angels from the cover (and the series name), and that’s what initially drew me to check it out. I am always looking for a book that handles the subjects of angels in a unique way, and this one was pretty satisfying on that front. I was a bit surprised that it took Haven so long to figure it out (see above re: the lack of common sense at times), but that could have been, again, because I already knew going in. I hope we get to see more of the angel lore (and its demonic counterpart) as the series progresses.
Illuminate is probably not for everyone; the action is a bit slow-moving and much of the book is taken up with mundane daily work tasks and other various types of repetition, like Haven’s evening exercise runs. Much of the plot is relayed through eavesdropping, and Haven doesn’t actually start DOING anything re: Aurelia and her staff until close to the end, so it’s not exactly action-packed. But there was still a quality to it – I did really enjoy the author’s way of wording things, and her style – that kept me engaged and interested. Even with the slow parts, I just really enjoyed this story, and am glad I read it. I look forward to seeing what happens to Haven and the others in the next installments.