Illuminate by Aimee Agresti
Reading level: Ages 12 and up
Hardcover: 528 pages
Publisher: Harcourt Children's Books
Release date: March 6, 2012
Series: Guilded Wings #1
Source: Thomas Allen & Son for review
Reviewed by: Tynga
Haven Terra is a brainy, shy high school outcast. But everything begins to change when she turns sixteen. Along with her best friend Dante and their quiet and brilliant classmate Lance, she is awarded a prestigious internship in the big city— Chicago—and is sent to live and work at a swanky and stylish hotel under the watchful eyes of a group of gorgeous and shockingly young-looking strangers: powerful and alluring hotel owner Aurelia Brown; her second-in-command, the dashing Lucian Grove; and their stunning but aloof staff of glamazons called The Outfit.
As Haven begins falling for Lucian, she discovers that these beautiful people are not quite what they seem. With the help of a mysterious book, she uncovers a network of secret passageways from the hotel’s jazz-age past that leads her to the heart of the evil agenda of Aurelia and company: they’re in the business of buying souls. Will they succeed in wooing Haven to join them in their recruitment efforts, or will she be able to thwart this devilish set’s plans to take the souls of her classmates on prom night at the hotel?
Haven Terra is a very serious student aiming really high for her future career. She wants to be a doctor and with that plan in mind she is volunteering at the local hospital, where her adoptive mother works, and applies to tons of programs to earn those extra credit that might help her get into an esteemed school. There’s one program she didn’t apply to though, the Department of Education’s Vocational Illinois Leaders internship program. With two of her fellow student, she has been chosen to leave school to work in a prestigious hotel, but none of them are quite ready for what awaits them there.
I find this review really hard to write because I honestly didn’t like this book, but I can see its potential and how someone else might enjoy it. So I’ll try my best to show you both sides of the coin in this review. I’ll be honest with you, after a hundred pages I was ready to give up on this book, but I hung on because I requested it for review, and I was really hoping I would like it.
The first thing I didn’t like about this book is the entrée en matière. There is a very prominent high-class, snobbish, elitist atmosphere to this novel, and it’s a set-up I personally don’t like. From the get go, Illuminate reminded me a lot of the Blue Bloods series by Melissa de la Cruz, a series I don’t like, because of its worldly ambience. I know there are a lot of fans of that series out there, so I’m sure this particular aspect won’t be an issue of many of you.
The cast was also problematic for me. The staff at the hotel is called the Outfit and they are essentially a bunch of zombies. You eventually understand that they sold their souls, but does it have to turn them into mindless beautiful creatures? I could overlook this problem, but the main characters also had some major flaws, namely Dante, was the worst. He is so overly stereotyped it’s painful to watch. The kid is gay, so far so good, but did he really need to be a gossip hungry, shopaholic, who’s an extremely good cook, likes to play dress-up and can whip-up an haircut in a blink of an eye? It was just too much to be believable, or even comfortable. Haven was ok, but nothing more. I have to admit I had a soft spot for Lucian, one of Haven’s bosses, but I felt like he could’ve been so much more, so I was slightly disappointed. The star of this book though, hands down, is Lance. This guy was definitely made of awesome. He came into the game with an underdog tattoo on his forehead and left with a superstar one. I even had an “Atta boy!” moment at the very end when a tidbit about him was revealed, I’m sure you’ll know what I’m talking about if you’ve read the book.
The main problem with Illuminate though, is that it’s way. too. long. The novel has 530ish pages and pretty much nothing happens in the first 300 pages or so. Agresti took way too much time to set the table and by the time something was actually reveled, the reader was bored, at least I was. See the thing is, I think a lot of the previously mentioned flaws could’ve been overlooked if we didn’t have so much time on our hands to think about it all. Illuminate isn’t a bad book, but it needed a lot more cuts during the editing process, in my opinion.
If you put the plot on fast-forward, it’s not bad. Aimee added her own touch to the old-as-dirt battle between Heaven and Hell and I particularly liked the original way a good guy was to defeat the bad guys. On the other hand, even after 530ish pages, we only have a vague idea of what the main character’s powers are and one would assumed one was entitled to get some answers after sticking around for so long. I’m confident, or at least hopeful, that the second book will move faster now that the truth is out in the open.
On a positive note, I found the end was exciting. There was finally some action, an heart-breaking decision was made and Lance provided us a “squee” moment =)
I would recommend this book to fans of the Blue Bloods series because of the worldly set-up, but beware that this book is twice as long as a typical Blue Bloods novel, so you need not-to-be bothered by lengthy introductions.
Lisa at Read Me Bookmark Me Love Me loved the novel, so feel free to read her review for a second opinion!