|+| Warnings: Violence/gore, ableism, strong language throughout |+|
“Don’t fight it. You were created for this.” ~Kayden
Author: Alivia Anders
Genre: YA Fantasy (Paranormal)
Synopsis: For the past five months Essallie Hanley has been trying to forget about the frightening murder of her boyfriend. Haunted by vivid nightmares and hallucinations of the event she does anything she can to pretend she’s like every other normal girl in High School.
Only Essallie is far from normal. Able to conjure blue fire and a shimmering silhouette of wings from her body, she seeks the only known solace left to her name; her first home in Belfast, Maine.
But she soon realizes that her return home is only the beginning of a long and twisted road taking her as far from her humanity as possible, with Kayden, the demon originally summoned to slaughter her, leading the way. Unable to touch her but oddly curious, he joins Essallie in her search to find out just what she is. But neither of them were prepared for the secrets they’ve begun to unravel, secrets that will change Essallie and everyone around her forever.
My Opinion: When I first read this book (soon after it came out in 2012) I adored it. I thought that despite the pacing issues and a few too many pop culture references, it was a fun read. I decided to go back and re-read it for old times sake. And I was very disappointed. This time around I found a plethora of ableism that made me extremely uncomfortable or downright offended me. I have no idea how I missed it all the first time. Despite a cool idea and fun characters, due to pacing issues and a shocking amount of ableism I gave this book 1.5 stars.
As I like to end my reviews on a positive note when possible, I’m going to start with the issues that I had with Illumine then move on to what I liked.
While over all I really liked the concept of the book, I had issues with the pacing. The book starts off with a bang and for the most part goes steady. The end of the book though, was extremely rushed. I found myself having to go back and re-read things multiple times because I was sure I had missed something. I hadn’t, the information simply wasn’t there. I would have loved to have seen the ending expanded a bit more. I feel like more information would have added to the overall suspense. Instead, because things were so rushed, I wound up confused, the tension lost on me.
This also ties into the world building. I understand this is the first in a series but there were so many unanswered questions that could have easily been answered then expanded upon later on. Yes this book takes place in our world, but we’re still left with a lot of missing details. For me this contributed to the ending feeling rushed and left me feeling disinterested in the story.
While the majority of the characters were interesting, I was frustrated with how much girl-on-girl hate there was. Essallie and Ursula disliked each other from the get go, and this is never fully explained or resolved. At the beginning, after the murder of her boyfriend, Essallie and her best friend comment on the cheerleaders and the popular girls. They imply that being popular means being loose, fake, and a brat. Ironically, Essillie becomes the exact thing she was looking down upon but excuses her own behavior. I’m so over this mentality and it really did nothing to help move the story forward.
My biggest issue with this book is how mental illnesses were treated, specifically PTSD. I really disliked how closely linked the author made PTSD and as our narrator says, “asylum worthy behavior.” I know many people with PTSD and how it’s portrayed in the book is not at all what it’s like. Once Essillie discovers her abilities, she realizes that she had never been hallucinating in the first place and she essentially no longer has PTSD. Magical cure at its finest. In this book PTSD was a gimmick to make the story more edgy, not a valuable part of the story. Once she accepts her powers, Essellie never struggles with anything PTSD related. I wish I could say that was the only example I had. But the language the narrator uses about herself and her mental state is awful, making her mental illness into a joke. She frequently jokes in anger about how people should just cart her off to a mental institution or how she’s “crazy.” In fact, all of the parts related to mental illness (weather it was in relation to our heroine or her mother) were extremely ablest and I found them to be incredibly offensive.
There is a light here though. Kayden was an interesting character. We don’t have an Edward Cullen here as Kayden never hides what he is or what he wants. He never tries to redeem himself, yet he does have flickers of kindness. While Essillie didn’t interest me, for the most part I didn’t mind the story being narrated by her. Ursula was my favorite though. She had a surprising amount of depth and she really does come into her own. For such a short book and for such a minor character, Ursula does the most growth. She made the book for me.
The over all concept was set up to be a win. Not only do demons and angels exist, but so does everything in between. Ultimately it’s the idea that all faerie tales are true to some point or another. For such a short book there was quite a bit of diversity when it came to mythical creatures.
But not even a hardcore lady like Ursula could redeem everything this book has going on with it. Nor could the interesting concept. A rushed ending, horrible portrayals of mental illnesses, and fake drama in the form of girl hate was simply too much for me to overlook.
TL;DR: Illumine was a let down for me. I was hoping to fall in love with the world again and instead I was offended by the portrayal of PTSD, worn out from petty girl-on-girl fighting, and confused by a rushed ending. Even if the girl hate and ending were fixed, I wouldn’t feel comfortable recommending this book simply because of how harmful the portrayal of PTSD is. If you or loved ones struggle(d) with PTSD, pass on this book. An interesting concept and fun characters couldn’t make me overlook the flaws Illumine has.