by Teri Brown
First in a proposed series
Marguerite Van Housen, medium extraordinaire, has come to New York City at the height of Prohibition to wow the masses with her amazing gifts. Her daughter, Anna – the bastard daughter of Harry Houdini, the gossip claims – opens for her show, performing sleight-of-hand and other magic tricks. The whole thing, from start to finish, is illusion, as Anna well knows; her mother has no more talent for seeing ghosts or communicating with the dead than anyone else. How can be sure? Anna can, at times, see visions of the future or hear spirits during her mother’s séance – but she has done her best to hide her special abilities rather than exploit them as she’s certain her mother would if she knew what her daughter could do. But then Cole, a quiet young Englishman, moves into the apartment downstairs, and for the first time Anna meets someone with powers like her own. Cole is a member of a secret society devoted to the study of psychic phenomena, but his organization is not the only one. There are others after Anna whom Cole claims are evil, but can Anna trust him? Or anyone?
The relationship between Anna and her mother is what really carries this book. It’s pretty messed up. Marguerite is jealous of her daughter’s talent with stage magic, and seems horrified that she may one day be eclipsed as the star of their show. But she’s also highly dependent on her daughter; Anna is the one that does the chores, saves money, and on a few occasions, broken her mother out of jail. Anna, on her part, loves her mother dearly, but she’s well aware of her flaws and often feels used by the ambitious medium. After all, without Anna’s assistance, Marguerite would be unable to pull off many of the tricks that make her séances so popular. Anna also wrestles with guilt over taking advantage of bereaved mothers wishing to speak to dead sons, and resents her mother for making her do it. In spite of the difficulties, though, the two women clearly love each other deeply, and the strength of their devotion makes their relationship absolutely compelling.
Anna’s romantic interests pale in comparison. She flirts with the nephew of her mother’s manager, and she feels a strong pull to Cole, but her interests in the two young men are quite different. Since she’s spent most of her life moving around and avoiding lasting connections with other people, Anna doesn’t quite understand what she’s feeling. As she sorts out what she wants, she becomes much more human and identifiable to the reader. Being a teenager is always difficult, emotionally, and her inexperience with other people makes her struggles all the more poignant. As she begins to open up, the other characters become livelier– so what initially seemed like a cast of standard cardboard cut-out characters become real people.
The 1920s was such an interesting period in American history, and Teri Brown does a great job of bringing the excitement and mystery of the decade into her story. Anna’s connection to Houdini, however tenuous, helps ground her in that time. I enjoyed the story, and if a sequel comes out – I looked over the author’s website and didn’t see any mention of the next title – I will look forward to continuing Anna’s adventures.
4 out of 5 stars
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Peeking into the archives...today in:
2012: The Queen’s Vow by C. W. Gortner
2011: Fashionista Piranha will be on hiatus for a while…
2010: The Queen’s Lover by Vanora Bennett
2009: Contest #8: Diggin’ Up Reading
2008: New Moon (Twilight #2) by Stephenie Meyer