Fifteen years ago, approximately, I read Illusion by Paula Volsky and loved it. This month I read it again and can see why I loved it so much. The book is 700 pages long, and for me that means a lot of time and effort and any book which requires these things better be worth it and Illusion is. I’m astonished that I managed this number of pages in just 26 days. That’s amazing.
Based on the French Revolution, the story is set in a fantasy world, but more specifically in a city called Sherreen. Eliste, a toffee nosed Exalted, travels to the city to be presented at court and become “maid” to the queen. We see exactly who Eliste is and how she thinks. We live inside her head for a number of months. It all makes perfect sense and we could almost believe things are just how they should be. Almost.
Then…things change and Eliste’s life is thrown into turmoil. We travel with her as she goes from a wealthy miss to living on the street – cold, hungry and scared. There are more twists in this book than you think possible. Each time something is overcome, something worse is thrown at her. We witness the change in her personality and in the way that she thinks, and that change corresponds with the way the book is written.
Whilst Eliste is wealthy and somebody, the wording used in the book can become quite tedious. The long words and phrases are confusing at times, but they suit the mind set of the main character and her situation. Everything is centred on class and intelligence and that shows in the word usage. Although I loved the way this was done, I did find it exhausting and this would be the one complaint I have about the book as a whole. However, the characters and plot pulled me over this flaw. Then, when I just started to get used to it, Eliste’s life changes and with it so did the word usage. No longer were education important to her as survival, especially where her next meal would come from, consumed her mind. Gone were the large words and simplicity took over. Well maybe “simplicity” isn’t the right word, but I can guarantee the reading becomes easier nonetheless.
The outcome is brilliant.
The story is filled with suspense, romance, gore, politics, and much more. The characters are whole and convincing. The setting is solid and real. The emotions pull at you, even when you put the book down and try to do something else. I found myself thinking about Eliste’s circumstances and wondering how I would cope if I found myself in the same situation. The scenes filled my mind when I was trying to fall asleep at night. I couldn’t wait to return to Sherreen and read more of Eliste’s plight (remember, I have read the book before and knew what was going to happen and still the book had a hold on me).
Yes, this is still my number one book. Highly recommended.