Monday, February 27, 2012

Review: Illuminated by Erica Orloff

An epic romance full of mysteries that transcend time—fans of Romeo and Juliet and The Time Traveler’s Wife will rejoice!

Some loves are not made to last . . . Like Romeo and Juliet, Heloise and Abelard were doomed from the start, and their romance was destined to pass into history. Yet when sixteen-year-old Callie Martin discovers a diary hidden within an antique book, their story—and hers—takes on another life. For the diary leads Callie to the brilliant and handsome August, who is just as mysterious as the secret the diary hides. Their attraction is undeniab
le. As the two hunt down the truth behind the diary—and that of Heloise and Abelard’s ancient romance—their romance becomes all-consuming. But Callie knows it can’t last . . . love never does. Will their love that burns as bright as a shooting star flame out, or will these star-crossed lovers be able to defy history? (summary from Goodreads)

Illuminated had a premise that won me over immediately, but unfortunately didn't hold up throughout the whole of the novel.

In the years since her mothers death, Calliope has had a strained relationship with her father, who is too busy with his work to give her much thought - except to ensure she gets the grades necessary to study Law. A loner, Calliope doesn't really have any friends and has never dated. Every year she looks forward to spending the summer with historian uncle, Harry, and his partner in New York, working as his assistant. This year, when an illuminated books is discovered as hiding the journal of a mysterious "A", Callie's life is changed. The search for answers leads her to August, who feels as connected to the journal's truths as Callie, and to the tragic tale of Heloise and Abelard. There's so much more to the connection between Callie and August, and Heloise and Abelard, then historic interest and only the discovery of A's identity will provide the answers Callie seeks.

The moment I saw that cover - still so beautiful! - and read that summary, Illuminated was a must read for me. Romance, history, a secret journal, mystery, the tragic love of Heloise and Abelard? It screamed my kind of book! So it saddens me that the book in fact didn't hold up to my expectations. Where I'd hoped for excitement and intrigue, Illuminated simply stalled. There was such potential to this narrative, but unfortunately it just didn't quite get there. I'm never sure how to quite word my disappointment with a book or write what is in essence a negative review. Describing how Illuminated essentially lacked is especially hard because saying that it was missing something, that 'umph' that makes a narrative a standout, isn't really much of an explanation. But that is what it came down to for me - though Illuminated had all of those elements I mentioned earlier as enticements, they never truly developed.

As characters, I mostly liked Calliope and August, however their romance was too much an insta-love for me to truly enjoy it - and some of their dialogue had me wincing, it was so sappy and overexaggerated. I also couldn't connect with them individually, as they floundered between being normal everyday teens and deep older souls, like Orloff couldn't quite decide herself, and so neither worked. Added to this, a lot of the initial build up of the story at the beginning also amounted to very little. The 'Tome Raider' comes to mind, an internationally wanted thief, who breaks into August's house early on and is posed as such a danger to Callie and August's search for answers, shadowing them in hopes of retrieving the illuminated book...but then never amounts to anything, never even making an appearance. In much the same way, I feel like Callie's relationship with her Dad was left unresolved. Sure, they had one meaningful conversation where Callie got the answers she wanted regarding her mother, but then she disobeyed him...and for me, the end left it up in the air, as if to say 'oh well, it'll get sorted'. I just couldn't help wanting a lot more from Illuminated.

The mythology of the story also struggles in this way. Now, the tale of Heloise and Abelard is what I liked best about Illuminated. It's all that kept me from giving up on finishing this book, to be honest, and only just, because it too felt thin to me. Like it was no more than an excuse to have Callie and August connect and fall instantly in love. Still, it was interesting to read about them. The notion that Heloise and Abelard's son, Astrolabe, is the writer of the journal guides Callie and August's journey, yet he is hardly mentioned until the end and that frustrated me. In many ways, it's like Orloff had certain ideas, began to write the story with those in mind, but then gave up and ended it as quickly as possible. Honestly, Illuminated left me reeling, unsatisfied. There was just still too much, from the romance to the mythology to Callie's relationship with her father, that felt too easy and thus unresolved.

I wish I could say I enjoyed Illuminated like I really hoped I would, but unfortunately this book just never developed in the way it possibly could have in order to be everything it promised.


Publisher: Speak
Published date: 8 December 2011
Pages: 256
Format: Kindle edition


  1. Ahh, what a shame you didn't like it! This is just another 'negative' review and I've been so excited about this one.. Now I don't know if I will give it a chance or not..

    1. I know that feeling! It really is a shame, because I thought for sure I'd like it. And I hadn't even read any negative reviews about it! My advice will always be to at least give it a go...with this one, I think you'll know pretty early on whether or not you want to finish it. :-)

  2. Awwww, darling, I'm so sorry it did not hold up to your expectations. Like you, I'm a sucker for pretty covers and awesomely sounding synopsis (it does sound pretty cool, doesn't it?), and it makes me sad to hear that this book fell flat. Especially, since, like you said, it had potential to be something really amazing. I am glad I stopped by and read your review, tho, otherwise I would probably end up buying it - I tend to cover-shop a lot :P
    Thank you for your fabulous and honest review :) You saved me some cash today! <3

    1. I feel so bad for not liking it! I wanted to so much! But sometimes it's just not meant to be. I still adore that cover though! :-D I'm definitely a cover-shopper!

      Thanks for your kind words again, Evie! :-D