Horten’s Incredible Illusions by Lissa Evans: A very strange adventure
Updated: Dec 8, 2020
Sequel to Horten's Miraculous Mechanisms
Overall rating: 8.5/10
Quality of writing: 8 /10
Concerning content (language, violence, etc.): minimal
Age level: 8 and up
After discovering a valuable cache of his magician great-uncle’s old stage magic apparatus during the previous book, Stuart Horten must now protect the “illusions” from a greedy American millionaire, who wants them for her own purposes—all the while following a cryptic trail of clues embedded in the illusions themselves, which will ultimately lead him to his great-uncle’s will (without which, he can’t prove that the illusions are actually his). Each clue carries him and his friends through the illusion associated with it, into an alternate world in which they are tested in ways that they could never have imagined, but which ultimately strengthen their friendship and reinforce their loyalty for each other.
Horten’s Incredible Illusions has more character development than the previous book, although the plot is essentially very similar, and is a fun mystery story for readers 8 and up.
As in the previous book, the plot of Horten’s Incredible Illusions is based on a series of clues which Stuart (along with his father, mother, and the Kingsley triplets) must trace in order to find a treasure of some kind (in this case, the will of the magician Teeny-Tiny Tony Horten, Stuart’s great-uncle). However, in this book, the plot is broken down far more episodically into a subplot for each illusion, as whichever character “enters” the illusion to retrieve its clue must undergo a sort of trial in a world contained within the illusion. (I won’t spoil what those are). Since each illusion contains its own miniature plot, this breaks up the overall plot arc into a series of smaller conflicts—but Evans does keep these interesting by varying their settings, individual trials, and rules, and by including different characters in each (Stuart does find most of the clues, but he is usually joined by different characters each time). Overall, the plot of Horten’s Incredible Illusions is mystery-based, somewhat episodic, and a bit more fleshed-out than that of the previous book. (8/10)
The cast of characters in Horten’s Incredible Illusions remains similar to that in the previous book, with the focus centering mainly on Stuart, his dad, and April Kingsley (Stuart’s friend). A few new characters are introduced, including Ms. Edie, the American millionaire antagonist, but the core characters stay the same. It is worth noting, while on the subject, that the reader never even gets to see the antagonist during the book and the characters interact with her only by proxy. However, this works well with the rest of the book, which actually focuses more on “man-vs-self” conflict with Stuart than external conflict with Ms. Edie.
This internal conflict is one of the nicest parts of this book, and drives significant character development for Stuart. For example, in one of the illusions’ tests, he is forced to identify a picture of himself from among many similar others, forcing him to consider just what exactly makes him who he is. Furthermore, other characters also get in on this character-development action, through other trials that force them to make sacrifices to help others, consider what the true value of wealth is, and ultimately consider what it is that makes them unique as people. Finally, we see the Horten family grow even more connected as they undergo certain tests together, which is definitely commendable for Lissa Evans to include. (8.5/10)
The plot of Horten’s Incredible Illusions is straightforward and has a defined goal, despite its episodic structure. In terms of style, the writing is understandable, not overly complicated, and lacks excessive descriptive language. This book really has no major difficulty concerns. (3/10)
Quality of writing
In my mind, the quality of writing in Horten’s Incredible Illusions is an improvement from the previous book and fully develops ideas that started there. For example, Horten’s Miraculous Mechanisms had good character development, but perhaps less than some people might like-- Horten’s Incredible Illusions has more of it, and more significant developments. Similarly, the plot of Horten’s Miraculous Mechanisms was interesting, but a little straightforward for a mystery book-- Horten’s Incredible Illusions takes a similar structure and enlivens it with more plot twists and mystery, as well as a uniquely episodic structure.
The level of stylistic complexity remains roughly the same between the two books, with Evans writing in a straightforward and easy-to-read style that lacks flowery descriptive language, but on all other counts, I would say that Horten’s Incredible Illusions ranks higher than the previous book. (8/10)
Horten’s Incredible Illusions has hardly anything to be concerned about: no sexual content or language, for starters. The book has no violence, and the worst is probably when Stuart throws up after hanging upside-down for an extended period of time (as part of a plan to retrieve one of the clues), which is hardly something to be concerned about. True, the characters do risk their lives in several of the tests, but this is always depicted in non-graphic ways (being “erased” by a sweeping wall of grey mist, for example). There are a couple times where characters undergo minor injuries (trip-and-fall kind of things), but again, these are hardly issues to be concerned over. Overall, Horten’s Incredible Illusions has no real content readers or parents be worried about.
Based on this book’s clear-cut (although episodic) plot, readable style, and lack of major concerning content, it is recommended for ages 8 and up.