REVIEW: Illusionarium by Heather Dixon

Illusionarium by Heather Dixon

They call this a mix of The Night Circus and Pixar movies… two of the many things that I absolutely love. I can see The Night Circus comparisons but Pixar? I don’t remember either of them using footnotes in their printed material. (Yes, footnotes. I’ll get to that later.)

I got an ARC of this book in the mail. I don’t know how I got on the list or why I won. But a free book is a free book. In the memo, they said that the sender will email me when they need the review for the book. I received this after the book’s release date so I figured I’ll be getting that email soon. It never came so I guess they don’t need it? I finished this book last night but, I hate to admit this, it took me almost a month to get through this book.

The cover art is very pretty. Yes, it’s yet another one of those YA “from the back” shots because they want the reader to imagine what the characters looked like based on the descriptions. The title, Illusionarium, is quite interesting. What is that? It sounds like some big deal magical event or place. I was looking forward to be taken into a unique world, ala The Night Circus. But even after finishing the book, I still can’t vividly picture what it is.

What if the world holds more dangers—and more wonders—than we have ever known? And what if there is more than one world?

Parallel worlds? It should sound interesting and quite challenging for the author. Unfortunately, I just finished with an excellent JRPG game that did parallel worlds so right: Ni No Kuni. This book did okay but there is a lack of explanation and world building. It was as if the author assumes that the reader will automatically suspend her disbelief upon reading. No, I need more than that. Especially when you establish your timeline as 1800s, somewhere in London. You can’t blame me for pulling image references from the *actual* 1800s London from history. Maybe it’s just me but I had a hard time imagining what the places and things looked like. Ironic, considering the theme of this book is “illusion”.

It’s not just in world building that the author lacked. I didn’t care much for the characters either. I don’t know who they are, what they want to happen, why they’re doing what they’re doing. All of them are pretty much one dimension, especially the protagonist, Jonathan.

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.

Yeah, Jonathan discovers his abilities the same time we do. And apparently, he’s the best at it. Huh. Okay. The rest of the characters felt so random. All the character story twists happened in one or two paragraphs towards the end of the book. They kind of made sense and it could’ve been something that grabbed the reader’s attention but it happened so late in the story, way after the point where I just wanted it to be over. I found myself skimming some parts because they just went on and on. It was like the author was the only one excited and interested in what was happening.

Just like with every made up worlds, there are strange words and items found in that world. The book provides little to no explanations as to what they are. They’re just… there. Fantillium, illusionarium, the Grand… whatever. I don’t even remember them anymore. All of these sound very special and “ooh/ahh” but they way they’re introduced and presented had zero fanfare. I was told of them but not what they’re about.

But the number one thing that annoyed me the most was the use of footnotes. Why? We’re experiencing the story in Jonathan’s POV. Why did the author have to use footnotes? And they were so out of character. He’s serious in the actual text but the footnotes come across as whiny. (Note that my copy is ARC. I have not checked the final release copy. It might not have the footnotes anymore, thank goodness.)

Overall, it was more along the lines of Gregory Maguire‘s Wicked rather than The Night Circus or any Pixar movie. It had potential to be something very good but it fell flat. I wanted it to be something that could take me into its magical world. It did take my hand and yet it failed to pull my whole body through the portal.

Rating: 2/5. I originally gave this a 3 out of 5 but I just… I think I was just being overly nice.

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4 thoughts on “REVIEW: Illusionarium by Heather Dixon

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