By Heather Dixon
Greenwillow Books, 2015, 361 pages, Young Adult
As apprentice to his father, the second-best medical scientist in the empire, Jonathan leads a quiet life in a remote aerial city until the king arrives, calling on them to find the cure to a plague that has struck the capital city and put the queen's life at risk. A newly discovered chemical, fantillium, may help find a cure, but it will also put at risk all that Jonathan holds dear.
I would have expected Dixon’s sophomore novel to be another fairy tale retelling (her first book, Entwined, told the story of the Twelve Dancing Princesses). However, the best way I can describe this novel is by calling it a steampunk version of Alice in Wonderland. Like the magical edibles in Alice, in Illusionarium, those skilled at using a newly discovered chemical, fantillium, can do amazing things: They travel to different lands simply by opening a door, and they can bring all sorts of impossible things into being. And as in Alice, there is a Red Queen who doesn’t want Jonathan to escape alive. But Jonathan has more at stake than just getting home: He is on a quest to find a cure for a plague that has his hometown in its grips. Because of this, the story is magical and also suspenseful, with a few wry jokes added in for good measure. I would recommend this book to anyone who likes their YA with light magic, steampunk, and suspense.