Publication Date: May 19, 2015
Publisher: Little, Brown and Company
A Young Adult novel
From the author of Entwined, a brilliantly conceived adventure through an alternate London. This sweeping, cinematic tale of an apprentice scientist desperate to save his family—and his world—is The Night Circus meets Pixar.
Through richly developed parallel worlds, vivid action, a healthy dose of humor, and gorgeous writing, Heather Dixon spins a story that is breathtaking and wholly original.
*An advanced reader's copy was provided by the publisher for an honest review*
Because the summary supplied by the book is completely horrible, I'll summarize: Illusionarium tells the story of Jonathan Gouden, an apprentice to his father, Dr. Gouden, in the futuristic, yet very steampunk, London. A disease called Venem has stuck, killing every women in the Arthurise in six days, including the Queen, and Jonathan's mother and sister. In a race against time. Jonathan uses a mysterious drug in order to try and find a cure, but the drug has side effects, and as Jonathan is pulled into the parallel universe of Nod'ol, where he learns of the dangers of making illusions. Nod'ol promises the survival of his mother and sister, that is, if he can survive.
See, that's a good summary.
If you enjoyed The Night Circus and it's magical element, I suggest picking up Illusionarium if only to have a glimmer of that feeling back. While The Night Circus was more mature, darker and mysterious, Illusionarium is a like it's little brother, kind of the same, but special in it's own way. Do I think Illusionarium is as good as The Night Circus? No, but I think that has more to do with the fact that Illusionarium is more for younger audiences and The Night Circus was written with my age group in mind. Illusionarium appears to be more for thirteen to about sixteen year old readers, so if you fall into that category, I highly suggest picking this book up if my review piques your interest.
Illusionarium is an interesting book, the futuristic steam-punk element of Arthurise was fun to read and Nod'ol is a terrifyingly dark picture. Both were realistic, and well explained on how they came to be. The plot, very much like the writing itself, is scary, beautiful, heart-pounding and thoughtful. A highly enjoyable read, for those aspects.
However, there were things that didn't work so well, and all of were plot based problems. Like the explanation for how characters travel between worlds is faulted and it drove me nuts the entire book. To travel between realities, all you have to is imagine the door between worlds while high and step through your imaginary door. Yeah, does anyone else kind of see why that might be a bit off? I spent half the book waiting for the characters to wake up out of their drug haze in Arthurise, having never left. Also, through the entire book, I kept wondering why characters weren't holding their breath or bringing in an oxygen machine so they wouldn't have to have these long illusion battles. Just bring in a gas mask and go about your business, no one would be able to stop you, except maybe the guards, but you can outrun most of them. Finally, there is just things that Dixon never explains in this book because the logic of her world doesn't allow it. Like how the prophecy of Nod'ol was created during a illusionarium, but remained after the affects of the drug had worn off. I don't know if she was going for some mysterious magical element, but it wasn't explained and just turn into something annoying. So, in short, a lot of the logic of Illusionarium is flawed, not all of it, but an important chunk.
I'll talk about the characters quickly, because while the writing was beautiful and the plot unique, the characters didn't leave very much of an impression: Jonathan, our narrator and main character, was clever, smart and just a tad cocky and rebellious. I would have loved to seem him really reflect on how his personality played into the plot and his illusions on this at some point, but it totally never happened. Instead, most of the book is him telling the story, with fun little footnotes of his thoughts scattered throughout. I imagine these are better in paperback, but on my kindle, it was a little annoying to have to load up footnotes every time and then flip back to where I was. The footnotes are not important to the story, but it's extra little fun things in Jonathan's narration. Other than Jonathan, the other characters were okay? I guess? They weren't terrible, they weren't amazing, they were okay.
Long review short, Illusionarium was a good book, not great, not horrific. Definitely for younger people, and the whole book is the baby brother to The Night Circus.
Sometimes you need to try a just little harder to get an extra target.