Sunday, November 27, 2022

Today's read... Cruel Illusions by Margie Fuston

Today's read plunges into the world of vampires and magic with a very unique twist. It hit the shelves at the beginning of this month...and I just love the cover! 
Ready to dance on the side of danger, magic, and mayhem (or I think that's what this one is about)?

by Margie Fuston
Margaret K. McElderry Books
Young Adult Fantasy 
499 pages

Caraval meets Buffy the Vampire Slayer in this deliciously dark young adult fantasy about a girl who makes a deal with a magical secret society to enter a potentially deadly competition for the chance to avenge her mother’s death.

Ever since a vampire murdered her mother, Ava has been determined to get revenge. This all-encompassing drive has given her the fuel she needed to survive foster home after foster home.

But it’s been ten years since anyone’s seen a vampire, and Ava has lost hope that she’ll ever find one…until she stumbles across a hidden magic show where she witnesses impossible illusions. The magicians may not be the bloodsuckers she’s hunting, but Ava is convinced something supernatural is at play, so she sneaks backstage and catches them in acts they can’t explain.

But they’ve been waiting for her.

The magicians reveal they’re part of an ancient secret society with true magic, and Ava has the same power in her blood that they do. If she joins them, they promise to teach her the skills she needs to hunt vampires and avenge her mother. But there’s a catch: if she wants to keep the power they offer, she needs to prove she’s worthy of it. And to do so, she must put on the performance of her life in a sinister and dangerous competition where illusion and reality blur, and the stakes are deadly.



Magic, revenge, immortality, and romance weave among bloody thorns and a very dangerous game.

Ava will never forgive the vampire, who took her mother's life. Nor can she forget her parents' love of performing magic shows on the stage. Now that her brother and her have shifted from one foster home to the other, he, at least, has found a place he can call home. She, however, is eighteen and needs to deal with the revenge she's planned for the last years. When she runs across a magic show, which not only impresses but seems to call to her in a strange way, she wonders if she's found what she's looking for. But it's the hunt for vampires the magicians do after the show, which completely wins her over. Convinced she can finally find her revenge, she agrees to become the troupe's apprentice...but she's no where near ready for everything that means. Especially when she's forced to take part in a dangerous competition, where only one of the new apprentices is allowed to keep their magic and continue the hunt.

This book packs a lot...which also explains the almost 500 pages found in the hardcopy. It starts out with Ava and her brother somewhat settled into their latest foster home, explaining a bit of past but mostly allowing the reader to get to know her situation and sink into her character a little, first. She comes across as sharp-edged but not as cold as she'd like to be. Her love for her younger brother is golden, and although she's untrusting of the rest of the world, she doesn't completely spit in kindness' face. It gives her just the right amount of warmth to gain a little sympathy, while showing how her past has hardened her, too. It sets up the perfect stage for the rest of the wild ride...because it does shift into high-gear from there.

The author does a fantastic job at opening up a world of amazing magic and scenes. The descriptions allow for wonder, letting the darkness mix with beauty. It was fun to watch the magic happen through Ava's eyes and almost see the impossibility unfold. The manor, the fight scenes, and everything else comes to clear life, and that without overly wordy or drudging description blocks. 

Plots weave with secrets and sub-plots to make quite the intricate tale. While some aspects are predictable, there are quite a few which hit with unexpected twists and turns. Every truth is hard-won and comes at a price, and each one holds a darker secret behind it. It gave the read richness and felt as if there were more than the pages should be able to hold...but it all fits into a great story. The ending does leave enough open to let imagination flow, while securing the loose ends to form a solid finish.

There are tons of characters, many of which fall clearly into a gray zone. It's a complex world with shadows and forced survival, making each character hold their own goals and rules dear. It's hard to see who is worthy of friendship, and who is hiding their hand. But many have very individual story arcs...although Ava's didn't progress or change as much as it could have. Still, it was easy to root for her and the others, and hope they came through.

And there is romance. This wasn't quite my thing since it involved a lot of instant attraction and that with a love triangle... of sorts. I did root for one side, and Ava is in a hard spot. I just had a little trouble accepting the triangle with all of the other things going on too. But that's a personal thing, and the romance did flow with all the delicious tension and excitement that it should

I did enjoy this read quite a bit and found it extremely well done. I read it in one sitting and let myself happily get lost in this dangerous but magical world.

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