Story summary: There is a boy named Jonathan, living an ordinary life in a cold, northern aerial city. There is a plague sweeping through the empire and killing women at incredible speeds. There is a newly discovered chemical, fantillium, which can connect people into shared illusions, speed up time, and even open gateways to other worlds. And there is Jonathan, revealed as a prodigy at controlling this dangerous and enticing substance--and the only hope to save his mother and sister and perhaps the whole empire.
- Steampunk, multiple universes, time travel, aerial cities: this book has it all.
- Light and wholesome, while still having darkness, danger, and adventure.
- The science seems quite iffy to me. At the very least, it is very unexplored. And maybe I just wasn't reading carefully enough, but illusioning seems weirdly contradictory. (It all takes place in your mind, yet it has real consequences like throwing people across rooms and transporting to other universes.)
However, I didn't enjoy Illusionarium quite as much as Entwined. Though this was much more science fiction, as opposed to the obvious fantasy of Entwined, and I think fantasy might be much more Heather Dixon's forte. The science that was presented here had an almost fantasy like feel to it, being strange and wondrous while also being basically controlled by focus and imagination, like magic. Ok, there was some study of chemistry and stuff, but that was skimmed over a fair bit, and I still don't really know how it was all supposed to work.
Also I didn't like any of the characters quite as much as Azalea, Bramble, Clover, Lord Teddy, Mr. Fairweller, the King, and all the lovely folks of Entwined. Or maybe it was that I enjoyed the characters, but I wanted more interaction and relationships between them? Especially between Jonathan and Lockwood--I'm not sure why exactly, but their journey from hatred to friendship seemed rushed or lacking in the subtle moments I loved in Entwined.*
But there was a huge bonus to this book: the footnotes. They were really, really funny, and there's nothing that quite makes a book like awesome footnotes (see Terry Pratchet, the Bartimeaus trilogy, Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell, the whole awesome Pirates! series, etc.).
P.S. Lovely cover, no? I love comparing it to the Entwined cover: both have designs along the sides and corners, though one is flowers and leaves and the other is gears and lines; and both have girls with gorgeous dresses with their backs towards the reader, facing distant, strange buildings. Looking at them both gives a good idea of both the similarities and the differences between the two books, as well as giving a chance to see some nice covers.
*Man, so many Entwined references...sorry. When I started this review, I didn't mean to compare the two so much. I think it's mostly that I've grown to love Entwined so much after several re-reads, and I couldn't help hoping I'd like this one just as much.