I received this book for free from Edelweiss in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.
In an alternate steampunk 1800s London, a young surgeon-to-be Jonathon is required to find the cure to a deadly illness affecting the world’s women by competing in an parallel world’s competition of illusion creating, but there’s more to illusions and other worlds than meets the eye.
Oh my god where do I even start. There’s an alternate steampunk 1880s London called Arthurise that this story starts in, then it moves to a parallel world to that one, then within that parallel world there are illusions that change the way people perceive things. It’s complicated and awesome. I totally bought the alternate Arthurise and once that was settled, the parallel London, called No’dol, was also quick to accept. The world-building was rich and varied and oh so very strange, but the strangeness made sense as the story unravelled. It was amazing the way the strange hallucination-inducing fantilium was introduced and used and how that affected the world as well.
Jonathon was, in a word, amazing. A perfectly ordinary boy, nothing special at all, happens to be a very powerful illusioner – but not right out of the gate. He learns and uses his past education and experience to help him achieve greatness. It was wonderful watching him develop.
Anna/Hannah was also a delight. Both girls were very funny and brave and it was great seeing a young girl unconfined to what the times should have bound her. I liked her a lot.
Lockwood was a surprise to me, but really, he shouldn’t have been. I have an extraordinary weakness for reformed bad guys, and although Lockwood at first seems like a villain, over the course of the novel he and Jonathon enter a somewhat tumultuous almost-friendship. More like frenemies. I absolutely loved Lockwood, and I hate that I loved him. He was such an asshole! But that makes it even better. I think he’s an incredible character and the novel was greatly enriched by his mere existence.
There isn’t really a romance for Jonathon – he has a girl he quite fancies, a friend of his sister’s, but she only appears at the beginning and end. The real relationship is between Anna and Lockwood, but because it’s set in the 1880s, you know, it’s all about looking at each other and blushing. It was quite adorable.
But Jonathon’s powerful relationship to both Hannah and Anna (am I confusing you yet?) was beautiful to watch. We don’t get enough brother/sister relationships in adventures like this, and his plutonic relationship with alternate-world Anna was gorgeous.
Of course, the stand out was Jonathon’s relationship to Lockwood. Like I said, Lockwood is a complete asshole and he starts out as an antagonist, but the relationship advances into mutual begrudging respect and even, I daresay, some degree of friendship, the type where you’re always competing.
Illusionarium was one of the best books I’ve read in a long time, and as I was reading it I was imagining certain actors in the main four roles of Jonathon, Anna/Hannah, Lockwood and Lady Florel.
Freddie Highmore as Jonathon
I would make Jonathon a little older in the film as he’s 16 in the book but that makes Anna/Hannah 14, and I think she should be older as well. So I’d make Jonathon 18 or 19 and starting his surgeon studies, and as Highmore’s a youthful looking 23 year old we still have time to cast him. DO IT DO IT NOW MAKE A FILM IT WOULD BE AWESOME.
Lucy Boynton as Anna/Hannah
As I was reading the book I kept seeing Anna Kendrick as Anna/Hannah,
but Kendrick is already 29, so I looked for British actresses born in the 90s and found Lucy. I think she has the right look for beautiful, stubborn, rebellious Anna/Hannah and can pull off being Highmore’s sister.
Jeremy Sumpter as Lockwood
Sumpter is actually American but for some reason I couldn’t stop picturing him as Lockwood, the roguish, handsome, brave enemy-turned-frenemy to Jonathon. I think Highmore and Sumpter would bounce off each other quite well.
Helen Mirren as Lady Florel
Because she’s a queen. Obviously.
Dixon’s Entwined is my favourite novel of all time, so I was quite afraid Illusionarium wouldn’t hold up to it. I am so pleased to be wrong. Even though the style is different, using first person POV and endnotes to enhance humour, Illusionarium still sparkled with Dixon’s trademark wit, onomatopoeia, and lush, cinematic writing. Like Entwined, the story took a while setting things up before it really got going but soon enough I was entranced and deeply, deeply in love. I had a somewhat disappointing reading year in 2014 and I can safely say this is the best book I have read in a long, long time.