Emily Lloyd-Jone’s debut novel, Illusive, is a briskly-paced futuristic adventure for middle school readers. Jones created an interesting adventure, but stayed safely within the conventions and tropes of YA, drawing heavily from familiar works, resulting in a book that is fun, but predictable and in places a bit derivative.
Ciere (pronounced See-ARE) is a seventeen-year-old thief, part of a high-end theft ring. Ciere and her compatriots have special, almost magical abilities, awakened as a result of a vaccine they were given to combat a pandemic that broke out in 2017. In a small number of the population, the vaccine created super-abilities: eidetic memory, extreme strength, an “ability” to escape, the ability to create illusions (Ciere’s gift), telepathy, and rarest of all, mind control. People with these gifts are called “immunes” and are hunted by the government who wants to use them as weapons. There is a special unit in the FBI assigned just to this task. There is another government group also pursing the immunes, and it is more powerful and theoretically scarier.
The book opens with a bang. Ciere and an immune friend who is not part of the gang have gone off on their own and robbed a bank, gotten drunk, and passed out in an expensive hotel room. Now the police are banging on the door. Lloyd-Jones does a good job of ratcheting up the tension, but then the action moves to an elite suburb or an “elsec,” where Ciere’s handler Kit Copperfield lives, and the real action — as they try to get their hands on the one remaining copy of the formula for the vaccine — starts.
The story works best when it is in caper-mode, or when we are in the point of view of Daniel, another immune who has been captured and is being forced to work with the villains. When it delves into Ciere’s backstory or tries to explain her world (it’s about 2032, theoretically), the book stumbles. The “immunes” will remind some readers of the characters in George R.R. Martin’s WILD CARDS anthologies, or even the collection of “gifted” people in the TV show Alphas. There is an implication that the current president is corrupt, but largely the book expects the reader to just accept that Government is Bad. Presumably millions of people died before the vaccine was developed, and currently there is an intercontinental war happening, but the world Ciere moves in shows no consequences of either thing. Even stranger, cars still run on fossil fuels, it seems, and cell phones haven’t changed in seventeen years.
The plot is moved along mostly by Ciere making one bad decision after another, or her thief-wannabe friend Devon making mistakes. I will withhold judgment on Devon, because this is a series, and it’s possible that there is a reason for his incompetence. It’s good that the main character’s actions lead to the further complications, but I’d like Ciere, just once, to ask the obvious question or speak up and tell someone that important thing she just learned.
Ciere’s thought processes, which usually leads to her mistakes, frequently read as much younger than seventeen. She was orphaned at eleven and lived on the streets for a while before Copperfield found her, but that does not explain her immaturity. Despite this problem, she is ultimately a likeable character and the way she resolves her own internal problem at the end is well done.
While I found the book formulaic in spots, and outright rolled my eyes at a scene with a phone near the end, which was telegraphed on page 41, I think younger readers may not be bothered by this, and will find Illusive an enjoyable read. Lloyd-Jones can write, and with the adversary Aristeus she shows she can create complicated characters. It will be interesting to see where Lloyd-Jones goes with the rest of the series.
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