Jonathan has always viewed himself as a completely ordinary young man. He works as an apprentice to his father, one of the foremost scientists in the city, but he is preparing to go to university in a few months. However, all his plans are derailed when the king tasks his father with an important assignment. All throughout the country, a terrible illness is gripping its women, and now the queen has succumbed. Jonathan and his father have only a few days to find the cure before she dies. Their only hope seems to lie with Lady Florel, the most famous scientist in the country. She suggests using a drug called fantillium, which causes shared hallucinations and can thus be used to speed up the apparent passage of time. This will effectively give Jonathan and his father more time to experiment with a cure. Jonathan soon discovers that he is skilled at using fantillium to create hallucinations, or illusions, to impress his audience. But his use of the drug has a dark side, as well as the potential for a shockingly drastic effect on his entire society.
This is a book with a lot of interesting ideas, but it all felt a little half-baked to me. I think the problem is that there are too many plotlines for this relatively short novel, and I wasn’t sure where I was supposed to focus my attention. There’s the “race against time to find a cure for the disease” story, which does get resolved in the end, but we still don’t know much about what caused the disease or why it only affects women (at least, not that I can remember). There’s the “look at this cool drug that causes illusions, but what about the possible negative consequences?” story, which is probably the most developed plot. But to me, it seemed a bit inconsequential in the end…while the illusions would probably be great to watch on the big screen, they’re not particularly exciting in book form. And then there’s some business with parallel universes, but those are never really explained or explored either. I did like Jonathan as a character, and I loved his enemy-turned-ally Lockwood. But unfortunately, character development definitely takes a backseat to plot in this book. Overall, it’s not a bad read, but I wasn’t particularly engaged by it.