Cruel Illusions by Margie Fuston #bookreview #YA #darkfantasy #magic #TuesdayBookBlog

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.

Vampires and magicians. Why did it take this long for someone to write a book featuring both of them?

My heart immediately went out to Ava. She and her brother are orphaned after losing their father to a mugging and their mother to a vampire attack. They’ve been shuffled around in the foster system since then, but seem to have finally found a stable home where her brother is very happy. But that doesn’t convince Ava to let down her guard or allow herself to feel anything for her foster family. She’s learned not to care for anyone other than herself and her brother.

Both of her parents were magicians when they were alive, and Ava feels like it’s in her blood – she has a talent for minor illusions. After watching a magic show that seems to be more than just an illusion, she learns the troupe is part of a secret society possessing true magic – the magic that also courses through her veins. When they invite her to join them as an apprentice, Ava believes she might have found a family where she belongs. In addition, they’ll also teach her the skills she needs to kill vampires so she can avenge her mother’s death. But she’s also required to compete in a highly dangerous competition.

This magic system isn’t something I’ve come across. Magicians consider all vampires to be evil, and some of them are vamp hunters. Killing them increases a magician’s power. But are all vampires bad? Beliefs Ava’s held since her mother’s death are challenged. She also has to up her game because the apprentice competition doesn’t require pulling rabbits out of hats or endless scarves out of sleeves. It’s dark, brutal, and bloody, and the imagery is fantastic. I could easily picture the scenes playing out.

I’m generally not a fan of love triangles, but this is one I didn’t mind so much. Ava’s flip-flopping annoyed me a little, but it didn’t last long – she had a lot more on her mind. Her relationship with her brother is done well, and one of my favorite things about the novel along with the ending.

This dark fantasy is filled with betrayal, secrets, and blood, but it also features strong themes of found family and allowing yourself to accept love. It’s a hefty standalone novel at a little over five hundred pages, but you have to allow for the world-building. I sure wouldn’t mind seeing what happens to these characters in the future.

I received a complimentary copy of this book from the publisher through NetGalley.  Opinions expressed in this review are completely my own.

21 thoughts on “Cruel Illusions by Margie Fuston #bookreview #YA #darkfantasy #magic #TuesdayBookBlog

    1. Thanks, Tessa! I’m embarrassed to admit it, but I’ve only watched a couple Buffy episodes. It’s a show that’s been on my list for years, but I’ve just never gotten around to it. Maybe it’s time to push it to the top.

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