Review: Illuminate

Author: Aimee Agresti
Series: Gilding Wings #1
Publication Date: March 6, 2012
Publisher: Harcourt Children's Books
Reading Level: Young Adult (12+)
Pages: 531 (ARC)
Source: ARCycling
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.
~*~Lili's Reflections~*~

I had really high hopes for this one, so it kills me to say that it didn't live up to my expectations, though it was still a decent story. Instead of being amazing like I was hoping, it was just okay.

Overall, I thought that the concept of this book was amazing. A group of people that were all incredibly gorgeous are in league with the Underworld and they're pretty much trafficking souls. It was very creative. And by the cover of the novel and the name of the series, you can easily tell that Haven is one of the few good people fighting against the monstrously huge population of the evil, even if she doesn't know it yet. While I very much enjoyed the plot and how Agresti managed to get the kids to the hotel via perfect grades (something I wish would happen to me!) I was not always happy with the delivery. So I want to spend this review explaining what, I believe, hindered this awesome-sounding novel from reaching its full potential.

First of all, the characterization. Haven was an incredibly smart girl that took pride in that. She's not all that physically attractive and she's ashamed of scars over her heart and on her back. She'll do anything to keep them covered up. Found in a ditch on the side of the road as a baby, she was adopted by a nurse named Joan that raised her the way children in young adult novels should be raised--seriously and studiously. She was no absentee parent, which I enjoyed. However, my one pet peeve with Haven is that as smart as she claimed to be, she was very naive to obvious negativity around her and she was very gullible. She had no common sense and lacked the ability to put two and two together, especially when a handsome boy that normally would not pay attention to her decided to realize she actually existed. It was frustrating to see this girl who brags about being independent and intelligent turn into a pile of oblivious putty under Lucian's watchful gaze. Aside from that, I have to admit she's a very strong and intriguing character, I just wish she wasn't so easily taken advantage of. Another example is when Aurelia was in her office talking about something that is going to happen between Dante and Etan. She heard literally what they were planning and didn't put two and two together that Dante was in trouble until chapters later. Instances like this had me rolling my eyes. A lot.

Then there's Dante and Lance. Dante is Haven's best friend. He is a homosexual and was stereotyped in the sense that he knows everything about fashion, tends to be very loud, feminine, and exaggereted with his speech, he's colorful in both the way he dresses and acts, and at some point in the novel he pulls the "you can't understand what I'm going through because I'm gay" card and suddenly turns evil. Now, do I think there's anything wrong with this? Not at all! I have many homosexual friends, but it frustrates me to see homosexuals stereotyped in young adult literature. Do I think it was on purpose? Not really, his character is unique and his certain feminine qualities come in to save Haven's day many times because she knows nothing about fashion and make-up and how to be a girl, but I wish he wasn't feeding into a stereo-type. Lance is the strong, silent type. Also intelligent, he's incredibly tall and lanky with huge glasses. He and Haven quickly become friends when Dante becomes overly enraptured and obsessed with his boss, Chef Etan. Lance, like Haven, has scars he is ashamed of, like one right below his eye. Watching their friendship blossom was very fascinating. He's the type of guy that you realize is super attractive the more you get to know him--the way that young adult love interests should be.

And lastly, there's Aurelia, Lucian, and The Outfit. I don't think I have many positive things to say about any of them. The first thing Haven notices when meeting Aurelia is that she looks nearly Haven's age--not old enough to run a huge hotel based off of Capone's reign in Chicago. The age thing can be found in Lucian, too. Again, he's supposed to be a superior of Haven's, but they're so similar in physical appearance. It bugged me out that there was no proper mention of age until nearly the end of this 500+ page novel. Aside from that, Aurelia and Lucian both need better qualities. While Aurelia first comes off as a savvy business mogul, she quickly begins to show her impulsive, evil, true colors. The switch almost came overnight and was slightly frustrating. And Lucian, half the time he wants Haven and the other half he is standing her up. He's a good guy and his heart is in the right place, but his evil, jealous boss is ruining him as a person--making him a selfish, undesirable, nearly-controlling date. The Outfit is full of glamazons, as the synopsis explain, that can only be compared to evil zombies. That's pretty much it.

Next, I mentioned last paragraph that this book is over 500 pages long and it feels every bit that way. I'm all for detail, I love it, but there's a difference between boring thoughts and essential detail to paint vivid imagery. It took me a solid 50% of this novel to get over the hurdle from the beginning of the book. It was full of so much useless detail. Haven's thoughts didn't drag me in the way they should have and they only truly captured my attention once she began scheming. It took me two weeks to read this one because I just didn't want to get over the first half of the book due to all of the unnecessary information that was slowing it down, but once I was 50% of the way in I finished the book in one sitting. However, if book two is anything like the second half, than I am really excited! I think, in part, that the first half of the book dragged because, in my opinion, there was way too much talk of sinning and the concept of souls. While not religious, it almost seemed religious because some characters spoke of crossing over to the dark side religiously and with such reverence. Souls were brought up in really weird ways. On page 248 of my ARC, Lucian even mentioned how he picked out specific food for his date with Haven to "nourish her soul." Things could have been approached differently. Face it, bosses would never encourage their protegee interns to do bad things and instead would applaud their clearly good nature. The intrigue and attempted luring of Haven could have been better thought out and enacted.

And my last questionable aspect of this novel was the diary. One day near the beginning of Haven's stay at the hotel, a blank black book shows up for Haven and as days go by, entries are suddenly scribbled in it, dictating to her what she needs to do to survive in a world full of evil. As freaked out as she is, she follows the rules the diary gives her because it's all so weird. But I got a very Tom Riddle-esque vibe from this. Magic book suddenly shows up, tells you what to do, slowly takes over your life. Sure, this one wasn't evil, but you catch my drift. In all honesty, I had something similar occurr in a story that I wrote when I was eleven years old. Yes, eleven years old. I feel as if this was a childish solution to slowly help Haven discover who she was that could have been constructed in a better way as well. It's something out of a young middle-grade, not a young adult novel. And the fact that this book was so important to her understanding of things yet we didn't meet who was behind it just yet was frustrating. Again, I sincerely hope that we learn who was behind it in book two or I may not be able to deal with it.

So, all in all, you can see I had a lot of problems with the execution of this one, not the characters and the plot, but how Agresti chose to go about things. It wasn't very believable and, more often than not, childish. However, since I think this book still deserves three stars, the amazing plot concept was enough to keep me reading and overshadow a lot of the negativity until I began reflecting on all of my notes for this review. So, I plan on picking up book two, though I'm going in with more realistic expectations than I did its predecessor. If it is anything like the second half of ILLUMINATE, Agresti will show immense growth that'll excite me and keep me reading. My fingers are crossed.

I recommend this book to those who enjoy good vs. evil stories. Then again, I also think this is more appropriate for younger level readers that like big books. I don't know about others my age, but I think all of my pet peeves are more appealing to younger children. Thank you to Jennifer at ARCycling for giving me the chance to review this book off of my wishlist!   

3 stars



  1. This was the first book I ever reviewed on our blog, and it struck me the same way it did you. I really wasn't that impressed, and it seemed entirely too drawn out. Nice review.

    YA Sisterhood

  2. Haven sounds great except letting herself get taken advantage of. But sorry this overall wasn't what you wanted.
    Brandi @ Blkosiner’s Book Blog