Author: Heather Dixon
Rating: ★★★★☆ (4.5 of 5)
Genre / Pages: Steampunk / 361
Summary: What if the world holds more dangers—and more wonders—than we have ever known? And what if there is more than one world? From Heather Dixon, author of the acclaimed Entwined, comes a brilliantly conceived adventure that sweeps us from the inner workings of our souls to the far reaches of our imaginations.
Jonathan is perfectly ordinary. But then—as every good adventure begins—the king swoops into port, and Jonathan and his father are enlisted to find the cure to a deadly plague. Jonathan discovers that he’s a prodigy at working with a new chemical called fantillium, which creates shared hallucinations—or illusions. And just like that, Jonathan is knocked off his path. Through richly developed parallel worlds, vivid action, a healthy dose of humor, and gorgeous writing, Heather Dixon spins a story that calls to mind The Night Circus and Pixar movies, but is wholly its own.
Cover Art Expectations: I started this book with a specific set of expectations from the cover art (Because let’s be real here, who DOESN’T judge a book by its cover???):
- Female protagonist (Definitely not true)
- Steampunk (True)
- Fairytale (Nope, not this one)
- Romance (erm, not really. I mean, kinda. But it’s not a romance novel)
Prior to reading the book I probably would have given the cover 4 stars. The character artwork is nice, the backdrop is gorgeous and mysterious, and the gear border brings to mind the steampunk genre. However, my expectation score was 1.5 out of 4 correct, bringing the cover art rating down to 3 stars. I think it’s important that a cover properly represents the book’s contents. Cover art rating: ★★★☆☆
My Review: First off, there is nothing intrinsically fairytale-esque about this book. (That expectation came from the author’s other works, and the cover art) I must admit, I was very confused when I realized that the protagonist was a teenage boy. Nothing wrong with that, but that was definitely not what I was expecting. Aside from those two things, I absolutely adored this book! I think I read it in about 2 or 3 sittings.
Hero/Heroine: Jonathan: This was the odd part. I’m not sure if this came from my prior expectation, or from the author’s actual writing, but it took me a good 5 or 6 chapters before I stopped having to remind myself that the protagonist was NOT a teenage girl. My mother had the exact same problem with this book. Jonathan’s voice was very confusing at times. Once I got over that block, I was able to truly enjoy and become invested in Jonathan’s character. His loyalty to his sister was one of my favorite aspects of his character. And that plot twist at the end? Pure. Gold.
Plot: Parallel worlds, addictive hallucinatory drugs with devastating consequences, alternate personalities, Science Magic (it’s a thing, y’all. Admit it.), high stakes, a deadly virus, a ticking clock, and some good ol’ fashioned gladiator style violence… Illusionarium has a little bit of everything! The finished product is entrancing, intriguing, and lots of fun. I thought I knew what was going to happen… but there were plenty of beautiful plot twists that kept me guessing. Fantastic plot, and an even more fantastic world. I think the world was my favorite aspect of this book.
Content Advisory: Some violence, death, and disturbing content, but nothing excessively graphic.
To Sum It up: The world building is really what makes Illusionarium. It’s insanely cool, and thought provoking to boot. It reminded me of an episode of the sci-fi TV show Sliders. Refreshingly unique and spectacularly creative, this steampunk novel is fun for everybody over the age of 12.