ILLUMINATE (Gilded Wings #1)Aimee Agresti
Paranormal Young Adult
Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
Received from publisher for review
THE STORY (from Goodreads)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?
Illuminate is an exciting saga of a teen’s first taste of independence, her experience in the lap of luxury, and her discovery she may possess strength greater than she ever knew.
MY THOUGHTSIlluminate has beautiful packaging, with a stunning cover and a strong premise combining to promise us an equally beautiful story full of danger and intrigue as well as a taste of heaven and hell. While Ms. Agresti is undoubtedly a talented writer with a flare for detailed descriptions, the story itself takes a great deal of time to really build, and we read page after page hoping for a snowball effect to kick in—wishing the quiet beginning would start to gain substance as the mystery of Lexington Hotel’s owners and staff unfolds, but instead we find the frozen flakes slip right through our fingers and prevent us from building anything greater than the sum of its individual parts. All the pieces of a fantastic story are present and accounted for, but somehow they don’t quite come completely together, our investment in Haven and her plight tangled up in a large number of words that don’t seem altogether vital or necessary to the progression of the plot as a whole.
Haven is a perfectly likable heroine, someone with a darkly mysterious past who strives to rise above her strange beginning and do everything in her power to carve out an existence that will make a difference in people’s lives. She seems so very normal and girl-next-door despite the supernatural element we know is going to make an appearance based on the synopsis, and while we can fully appreciate a young woman we can see ourselves meeting on the street in our reality, that normalcy in this particular case is part of what keeps us from fully connecting to her. She, Lance, and Lucian are all good and solid characters, however, they only inspire more vague generalizations and generic descriptors as there’s nothing about them that truly leaps from the page to grab our attention and brand our memories with their uniqueness. We enjoy them, but we don’t necessarily love them or spend quiet moments thinking about what’s in store for them moving forward.
Luckily for us, the final 150 pages make up for quite a bit of the lost time we spent in the preceding 350 pages, the tension palpable as Haven learns the extent of Aurelia’s nefarious plans for the hotel’s various guests, and what she must do to protect the unsuspecting victims. Finally our hearts start beating a little faster and that familiar itch begins at our fingertips, encouraging us to flip the pages faster so we can discover if good will conquer evil in this first installment. Those readers who loathe cliffhangers can breathe a sigh of relief when they reach the final page, as Ms. Agresti nicely concludes this first book while still leaving plenty for us to discover in the coming sequels. Overall, Illuminate is a bit of a slow read, making us wade through a lot of information to find the essential core bits we need to take with us as we move forward, but the end gives us what we’ve been searching for all along and leaves us with hope that we might not have to mine so hard for the flecks of gold in book two.