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Review: Imperfect Illusions – Vanora Lawless

Imperfect Illusions - Vanora Lawless

Genre: Historical, Paranormal, Romance

LGBTQ+ Category: Bi, Gay, Lesbian

Reviewer: Tony

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About The Book

A drafted empath. A dreamwalking poet. A world at war.

Chicago, 1917.

Idealistic, aspiring poet, Elliot Stone can make people feel euphoria or horror with a simple touch. But that’s only part of his magical abilities. He can also wake in the dreams of people he cares deeply for.

Stubborn, fiercely independent Warren “Sully” Sullivan is an illusionist with a secret of his own: he feels the emotions of others as visceral sensations. That, and a lifetime of fending for himself, has left him guarded.

On their last night of freedom before shipping off to training—military and magic—Elliot and Sully indulge in an explosive, emotional night together. Elliot assumes it’s a one night stand and nothing more, until he awakens in Sully’s nightmare. The urge to rescue Sully is impossible to resist. And when dream-Sully begs him to keep coming back, something Sully would never do while awake, Elliot can’t resist that either.

As real life draws them into battle, their shared dreams become a refuge that only Elliot recalls. So when Elliot has the opportunity to recruit Sully to the secret elite unit of magical soldiers he leads, he’s willing to risk everything for the man he’s fallen in love with in dreams. But being away from the front lines doesn’t mean Sully’s safe. Now they battle enemies with twisted magic where their secrets are a liability.

Can they bring their dreams—and love—to life? Or will the war cost them everything?

The Review

Imperfect Illusions is a period piece set during the First World War – the latter part of 1917, to be exact. Those with magic are being coerced, blackmailed or otherwise persuaded by the US government to enlist, unless they have already done so on their own account. Once they have been trained, they are sent to the front if they are low on the social scale, or given officer training and then sent on special missions. Whatever their situation, they are then run ragged to ‘make a difference’ or save lives, lives which do not necessarily include their own.

This may be the US’s approach alone but we are not told. What we do know is that the Germans and the French are making good use of their magical citizens. Not that it is in any way good for those citizens themselves.

Elliot and Warren are persuaded to enlist, or face exposure of their sexual orientation or their magical abilities. Warren is enroute to the trenches, and Elliot is heading for officer training when they meet by chance on the eve of their departure to the front. They spend a night of passion together that feels like so much more to both of them – not that they can admit to it in the face of what lies ahead of them.

They are both ‘witches,’ and have more abilities than the powers that they are aware of. The story follows them through their training and to their deployment.

A death brings them back together as a team, and to work through their feelings for each other. 

Both are damaged characters, each with their own secrets and pain. They find they work better together, not just for themselves but all those around them. They are well-drawn and very relatable.

Their colleagues are equally real and very human superhumans. I say superhumans because no one here is a superhero. They could easily be an early version of the X-Men, who find themselves in a plot with similarities to the first Wonder Woman movie. This is not a criticism, just a recognition of some of the influences here.

There are moments of pure dread as the protagonists embark on dangerous missions, particularly their final one. I put the book down on more than one occasion, not wanting to know if things were going to get bad

Expect to experience the horrors of war here – pain, loss, and the disregard of human frailty humanity. It’s not particularly gory, but people do die cruelly, sometimes heroically while trying to protect their colleagues.

This is a great book, full of hope and desperation in equal measure. And while there’s not so much a happy ever after, there’s more of a a happy for what you can get while you still breathe sort of thing. I’m not sure if there will be a sequel, but if there is, I’m up for it.

The Reviewer

Tony is an Englishman living amongst the Welsh and the Other Folk in the mountains of Wales. He lives with his partner of thirty-six years, four dogs, two ponies, various birds, and his bees. He is a retired lecturer and a writer of no renown but that doesn’t stop him enjoying what he used to think of as ‘sensible’ fantasy and sf. He’s surprised to find that if the story is well written and has likeable characters undergoing the trails of life, i.e. falling in love, falling out of love, having a bit of nooky (but not all the time), fending off foes, aliens and monsters, etc., he’ll be happy as a sandperson who has just offloaded a wagon of sand at the going market price. As long as there’s a story, he’s in. He aims to write fair and honest reviews. If he finds he is not the target reader he’ll move on. 

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