Ava knows that vampires are real because her mother was murdered by one. Ava has been training to kill a vampire in revenge ever since.
Fueled by anger and an equally strong drive to protect her younger brother Parker, Ava dwells on her revenge and the scant memories she has of her parents; the fragments of wonder she can still remember from their magic act.
Ava’s mother always told her that their tricks were only illusions but if vampires exist, can’t magic also be real?
The answer is yes.
As Ava learns more about magicians who wield actual magic as easily as she conjures coin illusions, Ava discovers that there’s little difference between a vampire and a magician. Especially when the two groups have been locked in a bloody feud for millennia.
Recruited by a troupe of dangerous magicians, brings Ava closer to everything she wants: real magic, true power, and a chance to finally avenge her mother’s murder.
But first she has to win a deadly competition to prove her mettle. The closer Ava gets to victory and vengeance, the more she wonders if she’s been chasing the wrong things in Cruel Illusions (2022) by Margie Fuston.
Cruel Illusions is Fuston’s debut novel. Main characters are white with some diversity among the supporting cast including a queer couple in Ava’s new troupe.
Ava’s hurt is palpable in her first person narration as she struggle to reconcile the potential stability of their latest foster home with the possibility that Parker is ready to move on while Ava isn’t sure she’ll ever get past finding her mother’s bloody body in the woods. This conflict makes Ava an angry, sometimes reckless narrator who is quick to run into danger and slow to realize the potential harm. Lacking the confidencet to be truly self-aware, she’s unwilling to admit her own self-destructive tendencies that drive her to seek out magicians and vampires instead of the promise of a new family. Slow pacing and evocative descriptions keep the focus on Ava and her mysterious past. As she learns more about the magicians and her own unlikely role with them, she also begins to question if making herself hard has worked to make her tough or if it has just left her brittle and prone to hurt.
The meditative pace of the story as Ava tries to decide what kind of magician–and person–she wants to be contrasts sharply with the intense action of the magical competitions and the strong sense of unease that permeates the magicians’ headquarters.
Gothic imagery, suspense, and a brooding love interest with secrets of his own in Cruel Illusions underscore the suspense and drama of this story; a perfect choice for paranormal readers looking for a story where the stakes are high (and sharp).
Possible Pairings: Our Crooked Hearts by Melissa Albert, The Coldest Girl in Coldtown by Holly Black, The Bone Witch by Rin Chupeco, The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins, The Luminaries by Susan Dennard, Legendborn by Tracy Deonn, Race the Sands by Sarah Beth Durst, Caraval by Stephanie Garber, The Midnight Lie by Marie Rutkoski, Hotel Magnifique by Emily J. Taylor