Dane and Mandy, a popular magic act for forty years, are tragically separated by a car wreck that claims Mandy’s life — or so everyone thinks. Even as Dane mourns and tries to rebuild his life without her, Mandy, supposedly dead, awakes in the present as the nineteen-year-old she was in 1970. Distraught and disoriented in what to her is the future, she is confined to a mental ward until she discovers a magical ability to pass invisibly through time and space to escape. Alone in a strange world, she uses her mysterious powers to eke out a living, performing magic on the streets and in a quaint coffee shop.
Hoping to discover an exciting new talent, Dane ventures into the coffee shop and is transfixed by the magic he sees, illusions that even he, a seasoned professional, cannot explain. But more than anything, he is emotionally devastated by this teenager who has never met him, doesn’t know him, is certainly not in love with him, but is in every respect identical to the young beauty he first met and married some forty years earlier.
They begin a furtive relationship as mentor and protégée, but even as Dane tries to sort out who she really is and she tries to understand why she is drawn to him, they are watched by secretive interests who not only possess the answers to Mandy’s powers and misplacement in time but also the roguish ability to decide what will become of her.
Frank Peretti’s apparent final novel Illusion released in 2012, but nearly vanished without a trace. To miss this tour de force would be a tragedy. Indeed, tragic loss begins the story of middle-aged Dane Collins, who by chapter 1 becomes a widower after a car accident kills his beloved wife Mandy. Unlike other Peretti heroes, Dane and Mandy are not pastors or police officers. They’re a popular duo in the magic arts—that is, show business, with flashing lights and Las Vegas and everything.
As our grieving husband tries to rebuild his retirement without his beloved of forty years, Mandy still lives in the past at age nineteen. Then in one blink-and-you’ll-miss-it moment, her perspective radically changes. With great time displacement comes great trauma, but also supernatural gifts to control space and alternate timelines. As Mandy forges a second life, Dane is startled by this teenager’s strange resemblance to his wife. Unknown enemies hold the answers, but their shadowy science could threaten Mandy’s life all over again, or worse, her future with Dane.
Just like that, the author who once imagined angel/demon wars instead blends The Prestige with The Time Traveler’s Wife (and even Tenet, years before it was made).
At a 2021 conference, Peretti himself remarked how Illusion seemed lost on many readers. Perhaps the premise felt too fantastical. Evangelical readers still expecting Peretti heroes to wield the power of prayer may have felt uncertain or alarmed by this new focus on stage magicians, one of whom performs actual levitations and psychokinesis. Patient readers can await more rational explanations, which Peretti in his own time provides in spades. Of course, mind you the wibbly-wobbly timey-wimey plot holes and predestination paradoxes. And don’t expect meditations on how mortals can gain power (like Peretti’s angels) to enter eternal in-betweens.
But this story isn’t about mad science or speculative multiversing. Peretti’s last novel creates a romantic world with sci-fi flourishes where likeable heroes, villain twists, and familiar places sell a dramatic performance.
Readers who overlook this Illusion risk the real-world wonders of an artist who has spent a lifetime cultivating the craft of Christ-exalting stories.
Best for: Older teen or adult readers who enjoy grown-up heroes as well as genre-blending supernatural drama with earnest romance.
Discern: Descriptions of violence, such as attacks on a young woman and memories of her older self’s tragic death; overt magical acts, like levitation and passing through walls, that are later explained by fictional science; older man is attracted to the nineteen-year-old version of his wife, a subject handled with sensitivity yet honesty; sporadic references to showgirl outfits and sensual appeal, but a usually more wholesome view of Vegas performers; one performance goes awry as one female magician is sexually assaulted by audience members, who are soon magically punished; several possible misuses of God’s title as exclamations (not as prayers).