Monday, June 24, 2013

Born of Illusion: Magicians, Mediums and Mentalists

Born of Illusion
Author Teri Brown
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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?
Review: One would think that the most intriguing aspect of Born of Illusion involves mediumship and magic, but surprisingly it is the mother/daughter dynamic that carries the major weight. Anna's relationship with her mother is complicated by love, dependency, survival, deceit and admiration. The complexity is rich and thematically tuned. Unfortunately, the other relationships in the story are not as well-developed, and because of this, the love triangle treads in the shallow end of the pool. 

To my delight, the story is based loosely on bits of historical details and famous people from the era including figures such as Harry Houdini. Fans of the great magician may recall that after the loss of his beloved mother, Houdini went on a mission to expose all fraudulent individuals claiming to have psychic abilities. He attended several seances and revealed the tricks used to fool the participants. Interestingly, the lesser known Ghost Club and Society of Psychical research are also introduced. As presented in the story, these two groups historically began with similar intentions and even cross-membership, but overtime diverged. I thought this was fascinating and immediately Googled the groups. For me, it was worth reading this book just to learn new nuggets of paranormal history. Here is the link to my blog post, which was inspired by what I found in my research of the subject: The Ghost Club

The first quarter of the book moved rather slow and had me at times praying that'd it get better, which it did. Don't expect to be wowed by clever misdirection. The twist in not in the mystery or reveal, but rather grows from the coming-of-age development of Anna. Anna's character is the one who ultimately grows and by doing so, some of the others are forced to change.

All in all, a solid young adult read that slides toward the teen end of the spectrum due to the clean nature of the telling. The violence depicted includes a few thrown punches and the sexual content is merely a chaste kiss. The historical content is interesting and is easily woven into the overall plot. 

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*ARC provided by Balzer & Bray courtesy of Amazon Vine

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