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 my kind of historical. It had a wonderful atmosphere, complete with a fabulous 1920s vibe, and featured a spitfire of a main character in Anna, who undergoes all the right kinds of character development, complete with making mistakes and growing as a person. Add in a complicated relationship with her mother, and a swoon-worthy love interest – plus a twist of paranormal – and I was definitely sold on pretty much every single thing this story had to offer.
I found Anna to be a wonderfully constructed character. She has her flaws – her inability to trust being the top one – and has a very uneasy relationship with her mother, who is a mentalist. Because séances are illegal, Anna has had to get her mom out of jail several times, which means she’s had to become well-versed in the art of lock-picking. In fact, Anna excels at all kinds of magic, and it’s her growing ability – and desire for a bigger part in her mother’s act – that’s causing the most strain between mother and daughter. I very much liked watching Anna tiptoe through her mother’s moods, while working to figure out what she wants. The back and forth between the two provided some nice tension to the story, and was actually the main thing keeping me reading towards the end of the book.
This book is very much a paranormal read with historical flourishes. Anna has some special abilities that are making themselves more and more known – we’re introduced to her visions in the very first chapter – and these abilities really help drive the plot forward. Anna wants help figuring out what’s happening with her, particularly since her mother seems to feature prominently in the visions and she’s worried about her safety. Throw in secret societies and a mix of others with their own unique gifts, and this book was brimming with plenty of twists to keep the reader turning the pages.
I also couldn’t help but swoon a bit over Cole, who pretty much captures Anna’s attention from the beginning and definitely plays an important part in the overall story that’s told. However, Anna is a very strong character who’s more than able to stand on her own two feet, and I liked seeing this stubborn, capable girl make her own choices (and mistakes) and deal with the consequences. I also loved her friend, Cynthia, who was charming and over-the-top in a completely wonderful way. She really helped balance out Anna’s seriousness, and I look forward to seeing more of her.
While I did have most of the mystery figured out well before Anna, there was plenty in the character development department to keep me invested in Born of Illusion until the very end. This is certainly a book that has a little bit of something for everyone, from historical 1920s New York City, to the magic permeating the story, to the very capable Anna. I can wholeheartedly recommend it, and am very much looking forward to the sequel!
An e-galley was provided by the publisher via Edelweiss in exchange for an honest review.