When I was a teen, I really liked reading about teenage criminals. There was something very heady about a teen who deliberately broke the law – sometimes for a selfless reason, sometimes not – and got away with it, over and over again. Putting something over on adults is a time-honored tradition for teens in literature, and I’m happy to report that Emily Lloyd-Jones’ debut, Illusive, is a a terrific addition to this noble genre.
There is perhaps no better “meet” marketing pitch than the one for this book: X-Men meets Ocean’s Eleven. Unlike many others, this one actually works. It’s about a group of teens with special powers who carry out heists. Their powers derive from a vaccine that cured a deadly illness. In a small percentage of the population, the vaccine caused peculiar side effects. Our protagonist, Ciere, found herself with the ability to create illusions – including the ability to make herself nearly invisible. Drawing a firmer parallel with the X-Men, the world Ciere finds herself in is one where people like her are hunted, recruited, and imprisoned. The only way to be free is to hide who you are – if that can be called freedom at all.
In the tradition of Divergent, Illusive is a bit of a vocabulary lesson. The vaccine created seven distinct categories of superhumans: illusive (create illusions), mentalist (read minds), eidos (perfect recall), eludere (sharper senses), levitas (levitation), dauthus (physical power), and dominus (mind-control by way of hypnosis). A dominus is rare, and when one appears on the page, it’s intense. A few select portions from the POV of Daniel, who has been captured by the dominus and placed under his control, are chilling.
Like any good heist novel, the book is full of red herrings and surprise twists. The main thrust of the story involves Ciere and her crew (led by a Fagan-type named Kit Copperfield) running a job to steal a dead woman’s will from a lawyer’s office. What precisely the will contains and why their client wants it in the first place are teased out over the course of the novel. Naturally, the will is much more than it seems, and their client isn’t the only one who wants it. Add to that the fact that a mobster is after Ciere for robbing a bank in his territory, and you’ve got an exciting, high-stakes ride.
The writing here is smooth, despite the fact that it’s written in third person present tense. (I know I talk about how much I love third person, but paired with the present tense, it’s so awkward. I still sort of wish the book were written in first person, or maybe past tense instead, but only sort of. It works.)
Particularly well-done is the experience of Ciere witnessing someone being killed. Often in stories like these, the tone is light and people are always cracking wise, even when they’re killing people or being shot at. There’s plenty of wisecracking here, but it was nice (if you can call a scene like this nice) to see that Ciere reacted viscerally, unpleasantly, realistically to a man being stabbed before her eyes. It adds a bit of seriousness to what is, after all, a serious situation. I also appreciated that there are a couple of f-bombs thrown in (not an overwhelming amount, but two or three). It makes sense that teen criminals would curse occasionally (or even, dare I say, frequently…).
I’m of the opinion that there just aren’t enough YA heist novels out there, so I’m glad to see another join the ranks. This should satisfy fans of series like Heist Society (though it’s a bit more intense) who don’t mind the added sci-fi element. I can imagine that for many readers, the sci-fi element would only sweeten the pot. It may also appeal to fans of Mind Games by Kiersten White or Sekret by Lindsay Smith, also books about teenage criminals with superpowers (I feel a book list forming).
Review copy received from the author. Illusive is available today.