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I’ll admit it. I picked up the ARC of Illuminate simply because of that gorgeous cover. Yes, I’m usually one of the first to complain about the girl-in-a-pretty-dress cover trend. But did you notice the shadow wings? And the pretty curly cues? Pretty cover aside, I had read nary a synopsis, summary, or even the title of this book prior to receiving the ARC. I’ve decided that’s my favorite way to start a book: with no expectations.
I thoroughly enjoyed Illuminate. The story is not wholly unoriginal, but it is a refreshing take on a classic. The allusions and direct references to Oscar Wilde’s The Picture of Dorian Gray help ease the reader into the novel and provide a basis for the storyline. But you don’t need to know Dorian Gray’s story to understand the premise of Illuminate. The idea of soul-stealers isn’t new, by any means. I did find the story a little predictable, but not in an obvious way, if that makes sense. I’ve complained about show vs. tell before, and in this story, the reader is given clues to make reasonable assumptions, which made it easier to predict where the story was headed.
Haven is a normal teenage girl, in an atypical sort of way. I immediately connected with Haven’s character because she’s a hard-working student who doesn’t really fit in anywhere – and that pretty much describes my experience throughout school. On the very first page*, she says, “I’ve never much been one for participation. I generally know the answers -- I just don't appreciate the attention that comes from knowing them. Answer correctly and you have further cemented your reputation as a brainy, hopeless outcast. Answer incorrectly, and not only are you considered a bookish nerd, but now you're even bad at that. It was a lose/lose situation." That was me in a nutshell. And upon reading that first page, I was able to transport myself into the pages of this book and become Haven’s character. I freaked out over the weird messages in the mysterious book, just as she did. I fell for Lucian, too, even as Haven was discovering that there was more to the beautiful people working at the hotel along-side her and her fellow interns. And I wanted so badly for us (ha!) to make it out of this thing alive.
The romance between Haven and Lucian is kind of a big deal, but it’s really not. You’ll see what I mean once you read it. Lucian is Mr. Tall, Dark & Handsome, with a side of danger thrown in for good measure. Haven is enamored with Lucian, but amid the impending doom, she keeps her wits about her and doesn’t forget that there are more important matters to deal with. She never fully trusts him or his motives, even if at first it’s only because she can’t fathom that this gorgeous man would choose her company over Aurelia’s – their beautiful, enticing boss at the hotel.
Had it really been me in Haven’s position, I don’t know if I would have been as open-minded and easily swayed by what appeared in that mysterious book. It would be a hard pill to swallow, indeed. I like that she doesn’t second-guess herself too much and gets right down to business, though, and that we get to see how the other two interns are handling the stresses and strangeness of the hotel, even if it’s only from Haven’s perspective. And it’s through Haven that we also see one friendship on the brink and another alliance forging. Haven’s going to need all the friends she can get in a place like that!
This 2012 debut may not have been on my radar, but I’m hoping to help put it on yours. It’s a lengthy book, but it never felt long to me. The writing was gorgeous and the story flowed beautifully because of it. The characters were well-developed and essential to the story, some more for their comedic relief than anything else. Pretty much, I loved everything this book had to offer.
Illuminate follows the winding and twisting path of a girl who’s only just realizing who she is, and it’s a book that is not to be missed.
*Mind you, this quote was taken from the ARC and may not appear in the final book.