Char­ac­ter-driven and en­ter­tain­ing fan­tasy fare

The Star Malaysia - Star2 - - READS - Born Of Il­lu­sion Au­thor: Teri Brown Publisher: Balzer+Bray, 373 pages, fic­tion Re­view by TASHNY SUKU­MARAN star2@thes­tar.com.my

THEY say you should never judge a book by its cover, but how can you help it with Born Of Il­lu­sion?

The strik­ing cover makes many prom­ises: you ex­pect mys­tery, in­trigue, dan­ger and just a touch of ro­mance. And while the tale that sub­se­quently un­folds may not be en­tirely en­chant­ing, it def­i­nitely is en­ter­tain­ing.

Born Of Il­lu­sion re­volves around Anna van Housen, a ta­lented ma­gi­cian and es­cape artist who as­sists her mother Mar­guerite in stage per­for­mances and pri­vate seances. While her mother is noth­ing more than a cun­ning fake play­ing on the emo­tions of those long­ing to con­nect with a de­ceased loved one, Anna sus­pects she may just have pow­ers that aren’t so prac­tised. Sup­pos­edly Harry Hou­dini’s il­le­git­i­mate daugh­ter, Anna is able to sense emo­tions and glimpse the fu­ture.

When the duo set­tle in New York City, Anna hopes she can fi­nally live a nor­mal life. But af­ter meet­ing mys­te­ri­ous Bri­tish neigh­bour Cole Archer, be­com­ing in­volved with the So­ci­ety for Psy­chi­cal Re­search and deal­ing with the charm­ing Owen – who is pur­su­ing her in earnest – Anna’s chance at a nor­mal life looks slim­mer than ever.

The sit­u­a­tion spi­rals out of con­trol when 16-year-old Anna be­gins bat­tling her mother for con­trol of the stage and the chance at her own show, a con­flict tem­pered by the mys­te­ri­ous vi­sions she be­gins to re­ceive of her mother in grave peril.

Set in the glitzy, boot­leg gin and tonic-laced 1920s, read­ers will fall in love with the fash­ion and glam­our in­tri­cately out­lined by Brown in her novel. Burst­ing with magic, thrilling stage shows, dash­ing men and a heady dol­lop of dan­ger, Born Of Il­lu­sion is a safe bet if you’re look­ing for an en­ter­tain­ing young adult (YA) fic­tion read. Brown cap­tures the jazz era with panache, draw­ing in plot twists that could have come off as clichéd – a mob­ster with a heart of gold, for in­stance – but thank­fully don’t. Noth­ing is hashed to death, mak­ing for a quick, snappy read.

Born Of Il­lu­sion is well-paced and thought­ful; it’s re­fresh­ing to find a YA fic love tri­an­gle sub-plot where there’s no Romeo-and-Juliet style whirl­wind feet-sweep­ing. Anna is savvy, smart, and level-headed. The love tri­an­gle, too, is not where the emo­tional meat of the story comes from: that hon­our goes to the re­la­tion­ship be­tween Anna and her mother, some­thing with which many girls can prob­a­bly sym­pa­thise. Mar­guerite fears her daugh­ter’s ma­tur­ing while Anna is torn be­tween re­sent­ment and lov­ing duty.

Which is not to say the love tri­an­gle is dull – the dark-haired, se­cre­tive Cole mea­sures up nicely against light, charm­ing Owen who par­ties all night and prom­ises ro­mance at the drop of a hat. While it may not be too clear at the on­set how the love tri­an­gle will cul­mi­nate, you def­i­nitely end up root­ing for the right per­son. The lack of fraught back-and-forth not only makes Anna a strong fem­i­nist char­ac­ter who isn’t de­fined by the men in the novel, but also makes for a nice change from the other YA su­per­nat­u­ral mys­ter­ies in the mar­ket right now.

The book is strongly char­ac­ter driven, and Brown makes us fall in love with even the sec­ondary roles to an ex­tent where you don’t re­ally mind some point­less me­an­der­ing. Crotch­ety neigh­bour Mr Darby is par­tic­u­larly lik­able, with his pro­tec­tive­ness and sar­cas­tic streak mak­ing for some light­hearted mo­ments. There’s also vi­va­cious flap­per and tro­phy wife Cyn­thia, who is far more in­tel­li­gent than she lets on, as well as the mag­net­i­cally-writ­ten Hou­dini him­self.

Born Of Il­lu­sion is the first in a se­ries, with se­quel Born Of De­cep­tion slated for a June 2014 re­lease.

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