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?
Thanks to Balzer + Bray and NetGalley for this eARC! This title will be released June 11th, 2013.
I don’t know what it is about blurbs these days. This is one of too many books I’ve read recently where the blurb didn’t focus at all on what the book was actually about.
When the book opens up, Anna is wandering around New York City, doing some shopping, when all of the sudden a vision hits her. Though her usefulness to her mother has always been for her assisting and her sleight of hand, Anna is hiding the fact that she has real powers–she can see the future, speak to the dead and sense the emotions of others. Her mother, on the other hand, is a complete charlatan. She weasels money out of people by pretending that she can speak to their dearly departed. Anna and her mother have recently moved to the city at the insistence of her manager, Jacques, who thinks the more upscale clientele of the city will turn more of a profit. But there’s a few problems. One: Anna’s possible father Harry Houdini is back in town, looking to call out all fake mediums everywhere. Two: the crazy inventor in the apartment below him has just brought in a handsome, mysterious lodger named Cole who knows more about Anna then he’s letting on. Three: Jacques’ nephew Owen may have the hots for Anna too… Oh, and there’s multiple society’s investigating mentalist powers that would REALLY like Anna on their side.
Can you see what I mean already about this book focusing on so much more than Anna’s possible parentage? If you’re going to read this book because you think it will explore the life of Houdini in depth, this is not the book you are looking for.
This is the one instance where I’m actually really happy that the blurb is not quite right, though. The book gets so much more involved then I thought it was going to, and it made it a much better read. The historical fiction part of the setting blended seamlessly with the story, with Brown not letting any historical details get her caught up. It feels real and authentic, yet stays a background part of the story–exactly as it should.
The characters are where I start to get a little iffy with the story. Anna herself is a great character, and I really wish we could be friends. The crazy inventor downstairs might be my favorite of them all, though, because he was so quirky and cute. Anna’s two love interests, Cole and Owen, were eh as far as that kind of thing goes. (Whee, a love triangle. Be still my beating heart.) Cole is serious, Owen is fun. That’s the biggest difference I could find without giving too much away. The love triangle thing, though, really seems to serve little purpose, because you can tell almost straightaway which guy Anna is going to fall for.
It’s Anna and her mother that really get me. Anna spent too much of the novel telling me that her mother was a horrible person to ever believe that her mother loved her. A huge part of this book was about their relationship, and it always left me with a bad taste in my mouth. I never bought the convoluted relationship Brown was trying to portray, so a lot of the emotional stuff fell flat with me.
It’s the plot that really carries this story, and it’s a good one. Fairly predictable in places, but it really gets involved and works on multiple levels that eventually become one large narrative. It also never stops moving, and the descriptions of magic–both real and fake!–was really interesting. Brown clearly knew what she was talking about. It flowed so well that I read it in one sitting!
All in all, if this book catches your interest you should totally read it. Just don’t go into it expecting that the whole thing is going to be about Anna and Houdini. Don’t get me wrong, he shows up and is a really sweet character, but he’s not the focal part of this story. There’s going to be magic and kidnapping and mother-daughter tension and a whole lot of other stuff. There’s a lot more to this story then meets the eye!