Published by Harper Collins on May 19th 2015
Genres: Young Adult
Sexual Content: N/A
Reviewed by: Megan
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.
When a plague deadly to women sweeps through the aerial empire of Arthurise, doctor's assistant Jonathan Gouden discovers that with the aid of a strange chemical called fantillium, he can create powerful illusions, which is key to finding an antidote. Unfortunately for Jonathan, the woman with the solution won't help unless he agrees to be her champion in a magical arena. Heather Dixon's ILLUSIONARIUM has some charms, but it's centered around a flawed premise, and rushes through young adult tropes as if moving quickly will keep anyone from noticing the predictability. The system of magic which holds the book together makes no sense, and I had a hard time getting past it.
At the start, Dixon states that the illusions created by illusionists are just that - visual. Those who aren't breathing the fantillium can't see them at all. Yet, time after time, the characters feel physical effects of the illusions; I can just about buy that you could make someone believe they're freezing to death in room temperature, though the power isn't supposed to be psychic, but Jonathan starts flinging phantom winds about and his targets react as if they're really bowled over. Since the illusionists aren't supposed to be reaching into other people's brains, but simply projecting images at them, the people on the receiving end shouldn't feel a damn thing. The lack of adherence to the established rules is too distracting.
The characters save this book, particularly the characters from the alternate universe, Nod'ol. Jonathan's rival illusionists, Divinity and Constantine have a few surprises up their sleeves, and Anna, the alternate reality version of Jonathan's sister Hannah, is quite a charmer. The emphasis on brotherly love rather than romantic love throughout was a nice change of pace, and Dixon's idea that too much fantillium, which Nod'olians are addicted too, causes 'schisming' is as disturbing as it is clever. The more a character breathes in the stuff, the faster he or she starts to split off and grow extra body parts - eyes, noses, fingers. It sounds pretty grotesque, and when a person's brain splits, they go full Riven, turning into something quite mad and beastly. I wish that phenomenon had been more of the focus of the book, rather than Jonathan's quest for a cure for the disease that (naturally) infected his sister and his mother, giving him personal stake in the search.Series Titles: