Cover Image: Cruel Illusions

Cruel Illusions

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Member Reviews

This was very good! I loved the book as a whole and it kept me entertained the whole way through. I do recommend to others.

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Thank you to Netgalley and the publisher for granting me free access to the advanced digital copy of this book, as this book has already been published, I will not share my review on Netgalley at this time.

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Cruel Illusions is a ya fantasy standalone that wears vampire tropes well. Instead of focusing on dreamy vampires, we follow a self-made vampire hunter in Ava. Vampires were briefly in the public eye before vanishing again, and Ava knows one was responsible for killing her mother. When a troupe of magicians offers her an opportunity to nurture an innate magical talent to kill vampires, Ava doesn't need much convincing. It also makes her feel closer to her parents, who were both performing magicians. The decision is helped by the fact that Ava's younger brother, Parker, is settling in with their latest foster family, but Ava feels on the outside of it all-- both thrilled to see her brother get an opportunity to thrive while feeling left out of a new family that seems to be forming around her but not with her. A seeming spare part to the person she loves most, it's time to seize on a new purpose and seek vengeance if she can, all while getting to act on a long buried wish to perform just like her parents once did-- only with real magic to amplify her tricks.

My favorite parts of this story come in two phases. First, I love Ava. I appreciate an unflappable heroine, probably because I'm super flappable. Ava finds herself in a competition among the apprentices of magical troupes where dangers lurk everywhere-- some blatant and some lurking out of sight. We see her adjust to new information at several points in the book, take steps to be the person she wants to be, and bounce back from hardships and several twists of betrayal to come out all the stronger. Though fierce and keen to take action, we also see her embrace moments of vulnerability and take a beat to think things through-- characteristics that were all the more endearing in the face of circumstances that try to strip her of those softer qualities.

My other favorite component of the book is a found family beyond the surface level. I think the popularity of the trope is warranted but also means it gets slapped on stories with little thought to family's complexities. Ava's road to acceptance and inclusion is not an easy one. Sometimes, other people get in the way of her happiness because of their motives and secrets. In other situations, Ava's past traumas and self-protective instincts get in her way. Seeing her approach people by the end of the book with the truth of those barriers made clear, we can see her make difficult decisions about who to let into her life and how to react to mistreatment.

I was surprised how into the romantic arc I became, as well. A green-haired love interest is new to me, but the name Xander screams ya fantasy heartthrob. Barely 10% of the way in, we see Ava develop a crush with undertones of jealousy. But don't let that run you off. I recommend giving Ava the space to grow and impress you. And I have to shout out the author's masterful work in writing a love triangle that didn't annoy me-- a rare feat.

This is a ya fantasy with bloodthirsty competition, found family, and a protagonist who grows into her power and her relationships. It offers tried and true tropes with fresh, creative twists. Expect a story that emphasizes the importance of choice and of not looking the other way when horrible atrocities are being committed that could benefit you-- a message that's sadly always relevant to real life and current events. Thanks to Margaret K. McElderry Books for my copy to read and review!

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The plot was way too complicated for me and it felt unnecessary. This story just didn't work for me.

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I DNF'd this after 20% - I couldn't get into the story or care about the characters. I was surprised to see how long the book was going to be my my brain just couldn't stick with this one long enough to finish. I'm glad some people have loved it but it is not for me.

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I received a copy of this book for a fair and honest review. When I was reading the summary for this book I was like I need that in my life. What could be better than magic and vampires? I started to read this standalone novel and it was a little slow to start and I had to push through the foundation of the book. Ava is on a journey to get the answers she has been searching for, for over a decade. She is trying to tell lies from magic and illusion. The troupe said they could help her with her magic but she has to join them and take part in a competition that will help her find the vampire that killed her mother. It is quite the ride from page one to the last.

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Cruel Illusions was INCREDIBLE! I was a little hesitant at first, because magicians were kind of off-putting to me since reading The Magicians by Lev Grossman. However, there is a complicated magic system, the female protagonist is dynamic, there's a love triangle that leaves you questioning who will win. Oh, and there are vampires. But, is everything what it really seems? This book was something I couldn't put down, and realistically was something that I was a little heartbroken when it was over. I will be picking up another Margie Fuston novel anytime I see one, because truly she didn't disappoint.

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Cruel Illusions by Margie Fuston is a novel that I have not seen get a lot of press, and that surprises me because there is a lot to like here. Yes, I know I am biased toward liking anything involving vampires, but they are superficial to the story. At its core, it is a story about magic and power dynamics with a bit of revenge thrown into the mix. What Ava learns about the secret society she is so desperate to join had me sitting up and buckling in because I knew I was in for a ride. I was not expecting at least some of the twists. Anticipating the others did not bother me or detract from my enjoyment of the story. I finished Cruel Illusions with that sense of satisfaction a good story brings and also wanting more from Ms. Fuston.

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An extra star because the pacing became whip-fast in the last third. Unfortunately, this was full of hackneyed YA tropes: a love triangle, the heroine being unsure and of indifferent skill until suddenly being revealed as a Chosen One. Tropes are fine if the author makes them fresh, but unfortunately neither the plot, the characterization, or the writing meet that criterion.

It also bothered me that family was so important to Ava as an orphan who’s moved through the foster care system, but Ava calls her troupe her family despite the twins being ciphers mentioned by name only twice, being at odds with troupe leader Aristelle, and lovers Reina and Diantha being two-dimensional at best.

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I liked this book but not as much as I expected to. I really loved the cover so I think it gave me unrealistic expectations. The book was really long and felt a bit dragged out but I did really like the magic system and the twists at the end!

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Cruel Illusions is one of those books which consistently surprises you. There's vampires and magic, family secrets and revenge. The magic was fascinating to me because it merges illusion magic with this idea of receiving our magic from the applause of others. People almost 'feed' our magic. This becomes a very interesting juxtaposition with the vampires. They obviously feed off the blood of others. Immediately, Cruel Illusions begins to complicate this dynamic.

And that complication only gets more intriguing as the book develops. As the consequences for power and ambition, for family secrets and revenge, only begin to bloom. Can we embrace power, discover our potential, without sinking into the very enemies we seek to destroy? For those who want a dangerous magical competition Cruel Illusions delivers. And for those who heard vampires and thought, "what?", there are definitely these beloved members of the undead. While I wished that the vampires were explored a bit more, what else can you expect from a vampire hunting story?

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In a world where vampires exist, Ava Perry lives with her brother Parker, and Jacob, another foster kid, and their foster parent Deb. Ava’s and Parker’s Dad was killed in a suspicious mugging when they were really young and their mother was supposedly killed by a vampire less than a decade ago. Ava has always wanted to follow in her parents’ footsteps and become a magician and she wants revenge on the vampire that killed her mom. She meets magicians and is invited into their secret society, which turns out to be the home of vampire hunters who use their magic to kill vampires. While spending time with this society, Ava discovers the truth about her parents’ pasts and their deaths and does everything in her power to right the wrongs her eyes have been opened too. 3.5 stars for an original story!

The beginning of the story doesn’t flow well so it’s difficult to keep important details straight. The connections between the vampires/vampire hunters/magicians were confusing for a while until more of the background was explained. By mid-book, the story picked up momentum and grabbed my interest more.
Language: R for 54 swears and 3 f-bombs
Mature content: PG
Violence: PG-13 for bloody deaths, stabbings and shootings

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Thank you to NetGalley and the publisher, Simon and Schuster Children's Publishing/Margaret K. McElderry Books for this advanced eARC for review. All thoughts and opinions are my own.

5/5 stars!

Life got me a bit behind on this fall's releases for review, but Cruel Illusions definitely didn't disappoint! This was such a refreshing spin on two common YA elements, blended together and invigorated with new ideas. It was a total blast! Since I didn't make it before pub day for this review, I actually ended up buying both a hardcover and the audible audiobook to read. I'm very glad I did!

The imagery was incredibly vivid, engaging, and full of wonder. I personally haven't read very many "circus" or "magician" themed books, and this definitely solidified the topic as a new favorite! The magic system was incredibly interesting, and a lot of the descriptions of magic tricks had me gasping, smiling, and completely in awe. Fuston also did an INCREDIBLE job of handling Ava and Parker's parent/foster journey, and the emotional difficulty and detriment that comes with it. I cannot speak from experience, but it was absolutely beautiful seeing Ava's journey of just tolerating Deb and her prior foster "whatevers" for Parker's sake, to genuinely caring about and being thankful for Deb. Deb was a precious ANGEL and should be protected at all costs. I also love how much this storyline and group of characters kept me guessing! Although there was a lot of world-building required (definitely needed AND enjoyed!), it only made the world feel completely immersive despite being a standalone. I'll admit my ADHD brain struggled at times to keep names/storylines straight as we got new information, but that's more of a me problem instead of the author's writing skill, ha! :)

This book wrapped up very nicely, but to be honest I almost didn't want it to end. I would definitely read any additional installments to this story, if they were to happen! But for a standalone, it hit every mark for me.

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Cruel Illusions was a really different look into the lives of vampires, infused with magic, and with a character who was very sympathetic from the start. I mostly enjoyed it, though I had a wee bit of trouble with a few things, so let's break it down!

What I Liked:

►It was definitely a unique and creative take on vampires! I love when creatures who are usually depicted as "bad guys" are given much more morally gray stories, and that is what we find here. I won't say much more for fear of spoilers, but it basically asks the reader to consider whether all vampires are just evil by nature, or whether it is more nuanced.

►Loved the concept of found families. At the start of the book, we're introduced almost immediately to Deb, the amazing foster mom who wants to adopt our main character Ava and her brother. Deb is the best, which I kept writing in my Kindle notes over and over. Like I'll take a whole book about her, honestly. It highlights that there are some good eggs out there in the foster system, while also highlighting some real issues, too. Again, nothing is all good or all evil, is the point. In addition to Deb, Ava meets a lot of other people along her journey who compliment this idea of choosing our own people. But since that is spoiler territory, I'll leave it at that.

►Ava undergoes so much growth during the story. I mean, girl has been through it, right? So we can imagine that there's a lot to unpack here, and Ava has a lot to figure out, in terms of who and what she wants to be, and the kinds of relationships she wants to have with others moving forward.

What I Had Trouble With:

►It was just longer than it needed to be, really. There were a lot of times when I thought that the book felt a bit draggy- like maybe some of the descriptive bits were overkill? Where I just kind of wanted to... move along, I guess.

►I did find it a bit predictable. Didn't ruin the story or anything of that level (and let's face it, I get all sorts of proud of myself when I guess plot points, so it isn't a total loss) but I knew quite a bit that happened before it was actually revealed.

Bottom Line: Great take on vampires and morally complex, albeit a bit long at times, I'd definitely recommend this especially if magic is your jam!

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Thank you to NetGalley and Simon and Schuster Children's Publishing, Margaret K. McElderry Books for allowing me to read this book. I liked the plot, one pair in the love triangle, and 2 other characters. But the rest of the characters I didn’t care for, which made it hard to get shocked or inthralled in a certain twist. I think there is a lot that this book does right and it is original, but at times it felt like there was so many elements going on all at once that it lost its emotional connect with its characters and the relationships. 3.5 ⭐️

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Vampires and magicians. Why did it take this long for someone to write a book featuring both of them?

My heart immediately went out to Ava. She and her brother are orphaned after losing their father to a mugging and their mother to a vampire attack. They’ve been shuffled around in the foster system since then, but seem to have finally found a stable home where her brother is very happy. But that doesn’t convince Ava to let down her guard or allow herself to feel anything for her foster family. She’s learned not to care for anyone other than herself and her brother.

Both of her parents were magicians when they were alive, and Ava feels like it’s in her blood – she has a talent for minor illusions. After watching a magic show that seems to be more than just an illusion, she learns the troupe is part of a secret society possessing true magic – the magic that also courses through her veins. When they invite her to join them as an apprentice, Ava believes she might have found a family where she belongs. In addition, they’ll also teach her the skills she needs to kill vampires so she can avenge her mother’s death. But she’s also required to compete in a highly dangerous competition.

This magic system isn’t something I’ve come across. Magicians consider all vampires to be evil, and some of them are vamp hunters. Killing them increases a magician’s power. But are all vampires bad? Beliefs Ava’s held since her mother’s death are challenged. She also has to up her game because the apprentice competition doesn’t require pulling rabbits out of hats or endless scarves out of sleeves. It’s dark, brutal, and bloody, and the imagery is fantastic. I could easily imagine the scenes playing out.

I’m generally not a fan of love triangles, but this is one I didn’t mind so much. Ava’s flip-flopping annoyed me a little, but it didn’t last long – she had a lot more on her mind. Her relationship with her brother is done well, and one of my favorite things about the novel along with the ending.

This dark fantasy is filled with betrayal, secrets, and blood, but it also features strong themes of found family and allowing yourself to accept love. It’s a hefty standalone novel at a little over five hundred pages, but you have to allow for the world-building. I sure wouldn’t mind seeing what happens to these characters in the future.

I received a complimentary copy of this book from the publisher through NetGalley. Opinions expressed in this review are completely my own.

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Actual rating: 3.5 stars

Is it dumb for me to say that I thought there would be *more* vampires? I mean... Yes, they are there and they exist but to me they felt a little bit more in the background than anything.

Anyway, I felt a little fed up with Ava and I think this contributed to why it took me so long to finish this book. I didn't feel wholly connected and I was done with the little pity party Ava continued to throw for herself. This book does contain the "found family" trope though, and I think Ava finds that in more ways than one. Sometimes I felt like Ava's brother, Parker, whom she had a lot of affection for, was mentioned at times when it was only convenient as a way to remind the audience that Ava has something else for her back home. I liked the idea of the secret society as well, but the fact that everything really was an illusion just made the ending rather lackluster. Tbh, I'm not sure I would have been as forgiving as Ava was toward the end, especially toward those who lied to her.

This book gets dark and gritty, and it's also very action-packed but I also thought it seemed a bit all over the place in some areas. The "competition" seemed kind of scattered with no real steps and rather just a "fend for yourself" aspect. Granted, you didn't feel any real connection with most of the other competitors so I guess that's that for you. I did like how Ava's magic manifested, and there were a lot of things that were upended toward the final chapters of the book, lots of big revelations as well. I could sort of see this book having a sequel but to be honest, I think it ended well enough.

I liked the writing well enough, but I'm goign to reiterate the whole "I thought there would be more vampires." Yes, they're there and they exist and play a role but maybe I just feel this way because I thought the main character would spend more time killing them, LOL.

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Fantastic cover and an interesting storyline. I was riveted with the first few chapters. Magicians and Vampires? I've never thought of them going together but this story made them mash up perfectly! As I hit about 30% of the story, I started to nod off a bit.

There was a lot going on!! A lot! But I felt the story didn't advance a whole lot throughout. If you've read Caraval, it feels a bit like that. Lots of things going on everywhere but the story slowly moves forward.

I liked the main character, Roman and Xander but I didn't understand how Knife Throwing or anything Ava did made her this fantastic magician/vampire hunter to be. I'm still scratching my head a bit. Couldn't she have some really cool magical power? Maybe I'm a bit jaded from all the fantasy novels I've read.

Still, this was a really fun YA Fantasy with a splash of romance. Definitely check it out if you are looking for a different type of Vampire read.

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From the first page, I was here for the Buffy x Caraval vibes of this novel. A daughter of a magician determined to avenge the death of her mother, who was killed by vampires? Sign me up. Immediately I felt a connection with Ava and couldn't help but root for this foster kid who only wants the best for her brother. You keenly feel her grief that drives her every action and can't help but root for her as she endeavors to enter an ancient society of magicians dedicated to hunting vampires. As she progresses in the competition, she learns truths that shatter her view of her world and her past, as well as her own identity. It's so fun to see her kick butt and take names. There were some very "Shadowhunter"-esque plot twists especially in the end that I totally savored. I also loved that slow burn dynamic between Ava and Roman. The Worldbuilding in this one was really fantastic and mesmerizing. With lots of action, secrets and betrayals, CRUEL ILLUSIONS is one of those stories where you question everything, and it felt utterly transportive. A fun YA read all around.

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“I can think of only two reasons you join a secret magic society of vampire hunters: you love magic or you hate vampires. I do both.”

Ava’s parents were killed years ago. Both were magicians who died from attacks, but her mother’s death was different. Vampires killed Ava’s mother. Since then, Ava has trained and vowed she will become a true vampire hunter. Her desire for vengeance burns almost as strong as her love for magic and performing. After Ava meets a troupe of magicians one night, she discovers that her mother might have left more than one secret for Ava to discover. Ava is soon taken in by the vampire-hunting magicians and thrust into an elite secret society— full of dark and dangerous games that must now be played. Ava will need more than a sleight of hand card trick to keep herself alive.

When Margie Fuston shared about her second book in our interview last year, I made sure to get an ARC as soon as I could. I adored Fuston’s debut, Vampires, Hearts, & Other Dead Things, and I was eager to read Cruel Illusions. I am quite happy to say that Cruel Illusions does not disappoint! I'm not a frequent secret society/magic reader, but I was so easily drawn into the world Fuston creates. The action started immediately and my attention never strayed. The history, rules, and different presentations of magic in this story are nothing short of captivating. The vampire lore in this story is likewise very original and creative within YA paranormal spaces. Magicians, vampires, and vampire hunters are all entwined in ways that add intrigue and complexity to the plot and the characters’ motivations. As far as the plot goes, readers may be able to predict certain events, but I guarantee that the twists and revelations throughout the second half of the story will make you love the book. Another reason to love the book? The great cast of characters. Our heroine, Ava, is engaging, determined, and healing. A major part of Ava’s arc is processing her emotions as a child in the foster care system and reconciling her trauma with her desire for vulnerability. As Ava learns how to open up her heart to other people, she also learns how to forgive and be supported by her newfound family. Fuston also does well in developing Ava’s found family. Character backstories are woven throughout the novel, and readers easily establish emotional connections with the ensemble. Still, I’m greedy and I want to know more about these magicians and vampire hunters! I truly applaud Margie Fuston for both an incredible second novel and an excellent transition from contemporary, metaphorical vampires to a darker, nuanced world of magic and fantasy. Cruel Illusions is a wonderful addition to any magic-loving, vampire-slaying reader’s shelf!

(Pine Reads Review would like to thank NetGalley and the publisher for sending us an ARC in exchange for an honest review. Any quotes are taken from an advanced copy and may be subject to change upon final publication.)

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