Jonathan lives in the far north, an aerial city called Fata Morgana, where he apprentices with his scientist father. He hopes to move to Arthurise and become a surgeon. But when a deadly disease called the Venen infects the women of his city, and then his own mother and sister, he is compelled to find a way to help cure it. And fast: it kills in five days.
His father’s former mentor is brought to Fata Morgana by the king, whose own wife the queen is ill, to help find a cure. But Lady Florek introduces a strange use of a substance called fantillium — when multiple people breathe it in, they can share hallucinations, and those hallucinations can be created and controlled by someone with scientific knowledge and skill — and demands that Jonathan join her in using it as an illusionist in order to get the cure. Jonathan’s father warns that Lady Florek has turned into a very different person, an unscrupulous one, since using the fantillium, but Jonathan feels the only way to find a cure is to follow her. He ends up in an alternate world similar to his own but different in odd ways, and very dangerous.
Not only does he face plenty of people trying to kill or control him, but Jonathan finds out that there are serious consequences from using the fantillium too often. He just wants to save his family, but as time ticks away, it’s not looking good.
Illusionarium is a novel with a fascinating premise and loads of imagination. The alternate worlds, the shared illusions, the science, even steampunk elements — all could make for a fantastic book. Unfortunately, it just falls short. I didn’t care quite enough for the characters, and the way the story played out just didn’t grab me enough. But this author has imagination to spare and clear talent. I’ll be curious to read what she comes up with next.
Rated: Mild, for regular mild violence and intense scenes. One character gets drunk.