I first heard of Frank Peretti when I was in high school some (mumbles embarrassing number) years ago. A cute boy lent me his copy of This Present Darkness, claiming it to be "wicked awesome" and, since I tended to listen closely to the recommendations of cute boys back then, I read it. Later I bought my own copy so I could read it again. It was that good.
Sadly, the cute boy found someone else to share his books with, but thanks to him, I found an author I can always count on for a good, mind-bending, my-brain-hurts-but-I-love-it read.
Frank Peretti's latest novel, Illusion, is all that – plus a hard-to-put-down love story, as well. I'll admit that the romance is, at times, a little odd – and sometimes uncomfortable – but it's a big part of what makes this novel so undeniably compelling.
HERE'S THE SITCH:
2010: After 40 happy and successful years as Dane & Mandy, a husband and wife magic act, Mandy Collins is killed in a car accident – or so everyone believes. Mourning the death of his wife, Dane retreats to the Idaho ranch they'd purchased for retirement.
1970: Mandy Whitacre is at the county fair. A single college student and amateur magician, Mandy will soon meet up with her friends to watch a magic show put on by a traveling entertainer. With a little time to kill, she sits down under the shade of a tree and … she must've nodded off, because when she opens her eyes she's wearing a hospital gown. The fair is still going on, but … everything is different. It's 2010.
2010: Escaping the mental hospital in which she eventually lands (by tapping into some strange ability to become invisible), Mandy dyes her hair brown, takes on a stage name, Eloise Kramer, and eeks out a living as a street performer while she tries to figure out what in the world has happened to her. On the street one cold day, she crosses paths with Dane Collins, who gives her a few tips on how to improve her act. Those tips encourage her to practice and seem to unlock strange, hidden talents. Soon, even Mandy is amazed at the illusions she is able to perform and becomes a regular entertainer at a local coffeehouse.
Dane comes to the coffeehouse to see Eloise Kramer's act, hardly able to believe this amazing illusionist can be the same amateur magician he met on the street not that long ago. Reluctantly, he agrees to coach her toward greater success. But it's hard to be around Eloise. Even with brown hair, she reminds him so much of the young girl he fell in love with 40 years ago. And Eloise, only 20 years old, can't explain the strange draw she feels toward this kind – but 60-year-old! – man.
Dane isn't the only one nervous about what's going on between him and Eloise. There's the man with the computer who attends her shows, but seems to only watch his screen. And the thugs who, though she escapes, try to do her harm. And the attorney who seems to have so much vested in her success.
Who is Eloise Kramer, really? And who is Mandy Whitacre?
If Mandy and Dane discover the truth, will they be allowed to survive?
HITS & MISSES
Illusion's multiple points of view and tension-filled prose will please fans of Dean Koontz as well as Peretti fans who've had a long wait between books. There are times when, even though the tension remains, the forward motion seems to stall a bit. But Peretti injects little bits of wonder into even those moments – and it compels you to keep reading.
Sometimes I wasn't quite sure in which year "the present" was supposed to be set. But considering the book includes time travel within a 40ish-year contemporary window, a bit of confusion is to be expected and … I'm over it.
This novel proves Peretti's skill as a plot magician. Crafted with all the misdirection its name implies, Illusion keeps you close to the edge of your seat for its entirety, as you wonder how in the world this tangled plot is going to work itself out. Illusion requires a bit of a time commitment to read, so be ready for that, but it's so packed with wonder that you won't want to put it down.
Romance readers will appreciate the depth of a love story that, quite literally, transcends the bonds of time. Nestled within a plot rich with astrophysics, magic, government conspiracies and multidimensional travel, Dane and Mandy's love story is both sweet and … strange. (In a good way.)
TO READ, OR NOT TO READ?
Written as a love-letter-of-sorts to his wife of 40 years, Frank Peretti's Illusion has a cast of visibly present, sympathetic characters whom you can't help but cheer on to the finish – and a love story that captures the imagination, stretches the brain, and wraps itself around your heart.