Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Review: Illusion by Paula Volsky

by Paula Volsky
674 pages
published: 1991
6 of 5 stars


For two hundred years the Exalted classes have used their dazzling magical abilities to rule Vonahr. Now, their powers grown slack from disuse and their attention turned to decadent pleasures, they ignore the misery of the lower classes until the red tide of revolution sweeps across the land. Thrust into the center of the conflict is the beautiful Eliste vo Derrivalle, spirited daughter of a provincial landowner, who must now scramble for bread in the teeming streets of the capital. With the key to her magical abilities an elusive secret, she must suddenly find a way to survive in a world gone mad ... with liberty.

Illusion is a work of fantasy on the grandest scale - a seamless web of passion, danger, heroism, and romance that will hold you spellbound from the first page to the last. -
from Goodreads


I'm breaking back into the review groove with one of my all-time-favorite books. I read this one in High School after picking it out cold from a used book store. I just liked the cover. Thought is would involve hardship.

This was one I mentioned in my Book Moments post, about hiding in my room in the garage, on my little couch, next to my huge pile of clean clothes (because I never put them away), and hoping Mom didn't find me with some necessary housework. All day. I couldn't stop. I had never read anything like it.

It wasn't high fantasy in the sense that there was a whole world to save from some powerful evil. It didn't have other races of creatures or a big world to traverse. In some ways it was even myopic, with Eliste trying to save her own life and preserve her world view that was being threatened on every side.

Yet Eliste was not the only point of view written. You get to observe the "bad guys" and the "good guys" and wonder which exactly are the bad and the good. Or is everyone just misguided? Focused? Lost? Wrong?? Wrong in that way that everyone is a least a little wrong...too egocentric to see beyond our own noses.

If I had to describe this book in 4 words it would be: French Revolution with Magic. But that makes it sound too simple. It sometimes read like a history book, sometimes like a romance, sometimes like a fantasy. It jerks your sympathies. It surprises you with hidden identities, stubborn determination, and just how low the characters sink. It is filled with lovable characters. Lovable because they are absolute stinkers - ignorant, immature, arrogant, impetuous, self-centered, proud, silly, vain - with flashes of brilliance and self-sacrifice and tenacity and forgiveness.

It has been a while since I've read it last (though I've read it probably 3 times) and I keep remembering another part that I loved, and another. I can hardly pick. Ooh ooh I want you to read it!

Back to salient points. Engulfing read. Haunting. Unforgettable. Amazing characters - the good and the not so good. Satisfying and plausible ending without too much "happily ever after." And in a small way, I feel like a have a better handle on the psychology of revolution, elitism, mob control, and survival.

My only complaint? Those stinking French names that I can't pronounce. Grrr. 

Give it a try. I'll be shocked if you regret it.


  1. I saw your 6 outta 5 stars and immediately put it on my bookmooch wishlist. Hopefully it comes up soon!

  2. Christina, that is the awesomest compliment. I hope it comes soon and you love it. (Crosses fingers.)