I happened upon Illusion completely by chance back in high school. It was buried on the bottom shelf in the far back corner of the sci-fi/fantasy section of the school library. Having read most of the other books in that part of the library, I picked it up – mostly because I liked the cover.

It quickly became one of my favorite reads. Paula Volsky retells the French Revolution, setting it in a world where the aristocratic class is capable of magic while the peasants are merely ordinary humans. This world is seen through the eyes of young Eliste – a young aristocrat who has just begun her stay in the Court as a handmaiden to the Queen. From there, she witnesses the rise of the serfs, the fall of the monarchy, and a sorcerous version of the Reign of Terror.

I have mentioned before that I rarely enjoy heavily political novels. This is my one exception. Volsky weaves the politics so closely into the story that it becomes impossible to separate out. From the glittering court to the streets of the post-revolution city, each social class has its own unique structure, complete with complex hierarchies, daily rituals, and unpleasant consequences for stepping out of line. These multi-layered circles make the world all the richer and all the more engrossing.

There were a few times that the pacing of the novel was rather slow, but for the most part, Volsky balances fun and fear, intrigue and peace, safety and danger well enough that readers find themselves swept along with the characters.

One thing that is especially good in this novel is the relationships between the characters. They make sense within their contexts, and they change and evolve as the world changes. The evolution, however, is not sudden or easily accepted. The main relationship begins as an aristo having a condescending friendship with a serf. As the established world gets torn down and rebuilt, the aristo finds herself on an equal footing with people who used to be her servants. She does not instantly embrace them as equals, though she is smart enough not to treat them with the same pitying kindness she did before. Instead she moves forward timidly, feeling out how they will react to the change in status. Several times she relapses into her old condescension. All this is completely plausible and makes for an interesting progression.

My only dismay came about when I tried to find the book again to read it a second time. It was missing from the school library and the librarians had no memory of it ever being there. I also couldn’t find it in any bookstore. At long last, my cousin found it in a little used bookstore across town and promptly called me. I purchased it within the hour.

This book is an excellent blend of fantasy and history. Complete with characters who change and grow and a wonderfully rich background, I find that I enjoy it just as much as I did the first time, each time I read it. Definitely worth checking out!

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