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Illuminate is the first book in a YA contemporary paranormal fantasy series called Gilded Wings by Aimee Agresti.

Haven Terra has always been the shy, smart girl. She has just one friend, the out-and-proud, equally educationally ambitious Dante who also knows what it’s like to be on the outskirts of high school society. So when they both, along with fellow high school student Lance, get a special internship at Chicago’s ritzy Lexington Hotel that’ll look great on their college apps and take the place of school, their companionship helps Haven feel more comfortable leaving home.

When she arrives, though, Haven is stunned to find every single employee is model-worthy attractive. And somehow, Haven’s the super-successful, beautiful, powerful young owner Aurelia Brown’s protégé and the insanely good-looking second-in-command to Aurelia, Lucian Grove, seems to be interested in her. It’s as if she went from ordinary and slightly invisible to a shining star overnight.

Yet even as all the attention is exciting, Haven can’t help but notice that a lot of the other gorgeous employees are oddly blank in their expressions. They’re almost zombies, except pretty. Plus, the hotel’s obsession with being dark and focusing on the Lexington Hotel’s mob-and-murder past is becoming a little disturbing.

However, all of this is easy enough to explain away until Haven begins to discover that these people are not what they claim to be – and they most certainly have very bad plans for not only their unsuspecting guests, but Haven, Dante, and Lance as well.

But will Haven be able to break free of her reluctant, quiet persona long enough to find out exactly what is going on – and stop them before she and her friends might find themselves as well, soulless, as the workers at the Lexington Hotel?

Illuminate had an intriguing start as we are introduced to our soft-spoken, kind-hearted main character Haven. The internship is instantly mysterious and enigmatic, as is (we soon find out) Haven’s origins. But I’ll admit, initially I was having a hard time with Illuminate. I was surprised it seemed to be going a bit slow for me.

There was an interesting tone though – something hypnotizing, if sluggish, about the story and vibe. This helped to keep me patient as a book that reveals much to Haven is brought into the picture – a book that came across as a tad, well, cheesy to me. There are spots that just feel clichéd – yet the ambiance, eerie atmosphere, and potential romance with someone other than stunning but suspicious Lucian (won’t tell you who!) kept me reading.

About halfway through (with it kicking in at around the 150 – 200 page mark) the spooky/weird factor got stronger and the slow burn started to become a smoother, easier read for me. It became much more entertaining and exciting with developments around every corner and some real progression in character and story.

Overall, I ended up really liking Illuminate. It was hard to get into, personally, but with time the creepy turn of events, solid friendships, great good vs. evil stuff, and dashes of romance and destiny made this paranormal journey quite a bit of fun.

I’ll be keeping my open for the next book in the Gilded Wing saga.


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