ARC Review: Cruel Illusions

Overall Rating: ⭐⭐⭐⭐- 3.5 to 4

Thank you to Netgalley and Simon and Schuster Children’s Publishing for this eARC. All thoughts in this review are unbiased, and completely my own.

Release date: November 1, 2022


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.

I didn’t enjoy this at first, but I ended up really liking it as I went on! Ava (the main character) had an amazing growth ARC, and brought “not knowing what you have until it’s gone” to a new light. I really enjoyed reading from her perspective towards the end, but at the beginning I was fairly annoyed with her. The influence of the people around her crept into her personality, regardless of how hard she tried to keep others out, and I really loved that little detail with her character!!

How her perspective changed as I read was actually really interesting to see, because while she maintained some key parts of her personality, she’d changed a lot in a fairly logical way! It was very satisfying to see her learn to embrace herself, and stop holding back from everything. It made the story seem complete.

Some of the actions of side characters in this book were kind of confusing at times, and because of this, some aspects of the plot felt slightly dragged on. For the most part, character development regarding side characters was more packed into the end than spread out like Ava’s was. However, I did really end up loving several side characters, I just wish more of them had time to develop.

Relationships wise, Ava’s concept of family was really interesting and I’m always a sucker for found family so that was great to see!! This book was wonderfully twisted in every aspect, and I adored that. Romance wasn’t a main point to the story, but it was still present and was decent overall. There were parts I had some issues with, but in total I did end up really liking the romance.

One of my favorite parts of this however, was definitely who she considered her family and how that shifted and was affected throughout the story.

This definitely ended much stronger than it started. The plot didn’t grip me at first, and I didn’t finish it for a while because of that. However, as it went on, I started to get really interested in the story. The twists kept me engaged, and while it wasn’t a case of “I couldn’t put it down” I became increasingly invested in the plot. The story was fairly predictable, however there were twists that I didn’t really expect.

The foreshadowing was perfection!! Most things didn’t feel out of place (though there were a few that felt strange), and majority of the twists were perfectly supported! They made sense, and I really loved that.

Overall, it was pretty good, but didn’t blow me away. I was left wanting more in some aspects, but I did end up enjoying this. It felt like it was trying to add too much into the ending, and this likely would’ve been better as a series or duology. I’d recommend this to more patient readers however, since the story does take a while to pick up. By the end however, it’s worth it!

Would you read this? Are you also slightly obsessed with secret societies in fantasy books (at Legendborn)? Favorite tropes and any other thoughts? Let’s chat in the comments!


2 thoughts on “ARC Review: Cruel Illusions

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