Illuminae by Amie Kaufman and Jay Kristoff
My Rating: 5/5 TARDISes
Series: The Illuminae Files
Date Published: October 20th, 2015
Publisher: Knopf Books for Young Readers
Pages: 602 pages
Synopsis: This morning, Kady thought breaking up with Ezra was the hardest thing she’d have to do. This afternoon, her planet was invaded.
The year is 2575, and two rival megacorporations are at war over a planet that’s little more than an ice-covered speck at the edge of the universe. Too bad nobody thought to warn the people living on it. With enemy fire raining down on them, Kady and Ezra—who are barely even talking to each other—are forced to fight their way onto an evacuating fleet, with an enemy warship in hot pursuit.
But their problems are just getting started. A deadly plague has broken out and is mutating, with terrifying results; the fleet’s AI, which should be protecting them, may actually be their enemy; and nobody in charge will say what’s really going on. As Kady hacks into a tangled web of data to find the truth, it’s clear only one person can help her bring it all to light: the ex-boyfriend she swore she’d never speak to again.
BRIEFING NOTE: Told through a fascinating dossier of hacked documents—including emails, schematics, military files, IMs, medical reports, interviews, and more—Illuminae is the first book in a heart-stopping, high-octane trilogy about lives interrupted, the price of truth, and the courage of everyday heroes.
This is a spoiler-free review.
Illuminae is a masterpiece—an absolute work of art in so many ways. It is one of the most captivating and utterly addictive books I’ve read in a long time. I’m always wary when it comes to books that have extreme amounts of hype surrounding them, but now, I can’t believe it took me so long to pick it up. I feel like I have so much I want to talk about, so many thoughts, and yet I have absolutely no idea where to even begin. Suffice it to say, this book absolutely blew my mind and has easily become one of my all-time favorites. It was everything I love in a science fiction novel and so much more—it completely exceeded my expectations.
We are thrown into the action right from page one. At the start of the novel, a small, ice-covered planet called Kerenza is attacked by a corporation named Beitech. The planet is completely destroyed, resulting in the deaths of many of its citizens. However, three ships are able to evacuate those lucky enough to reach them in time. The refugees begin a long journey to safety, pursued by the only surviving Beitech ship, which is intent on wiping out all witnesses of the Kerenza attack.
But the danger is not limited to their attackers—there are darker forces at work among the survivors as well. Internal conflict, a mutating virus, and a massive amount of deceit are at play. Not to mention a rogue and potentially deadly AI system controlling one of the main ships. The principal characters, Kady and Ezra, are thrust into the middle of the conflict, and must reconcile in order to work together to separate truth from lies and ensure the safety of their people.
The novel is told entirely through documents such as transcripts, emails, instant messages, and official files, all compiled together into one dossier. I’ve always had a huge issue when it comes to concentrating on things like textbooks that are set up with a bunch of extra boxes of information scattered all over the pages, and I was worried that this would be structured in the same way. Thankfully, this is absolutely nothing like that—it is incredibly easy to follow and maintains a very smooth reading experience throughout.
The style and art of the files is wonderful, and this was definitely the most unique book I’ve ever read. Everything is meticulously put together and highly detailed, adding to the realism of the format. This pulled me so deeply in and completely absorbed me into the world, making every moment even more heart-pounding and tense—it suits the narrative perfectly and truly enhances the reading experience.
Character creation and portrayal is a bit unconventional compared to the most common presentation in many novels. Here, we follow a huge cast of characters, but since the entire story is told through documents, the reader doesn’t get a chance to connect with them on a first-hand or very personal level. I’ll admit I was pretty wary about this going in, thinking there would be too much of a disconnect to actually feel for and become attached to any of the characters. However, I was extremely pleasantly surprised by the way it ended up coming across.
For me personally, I had absolutely no trouble feeling the intense emotions prevalent throughout the narrative. This is a testament to the incredibly strong writing of Kaufman and Kristoff. No matter how well or for how long I knew a character, their struggle and their emotions touched me deeply.
Knowing every little detail about their lives and who they are isn’t important—the focus is on connecting with them and the situation on a basic and relatable level. The universal and instinctual human reaction to the profound suffering, pain, and fear of others is relied upon to create the powerful story that is found within these pages.
In terms of primary characters, Kady, Ezra, and AIDAN are the main focus of the narrative. Kady is an extremely strong, intelligent, and badass heroine. She demonstrates such bravery through all her actions and commitment to saving the lives of others. Overall, I felt as though I connected with her pretty well, especially toward the end, and I really loved her. And AIDAN—AIDAN is utterly brilliant. AIDAN definitely ended up being the most intriguing and three-dimensional character, in my opinion.
I had the most trouble connecting with Ezra, though he also does not have as much of a part in the novel as the others do. He honestly doesn’t do a whole lot, though I was actually really glad that there was more of a focus on Kady anyway. Some of Ezra’s humor was a bit off-putting to me at times, but he did grow on me the further I got into the story. He is a very kind and caring person, and obviously loves Kady very much. I wasn’t thrilled with the romance—it didn’t really stand out to me and the way it’s presented is a bit awkward. However, I got enough of a sense of their feelings for each other that I still rooted for the pair.
Returning to the writing itself, it is absolutely fantastic and enthralling. At no point in the novel do you get any sense that it has been written by more than one author—the entire story is one fluid piece. I loved the combined storytelling style of Kaufman and Kristoff—they are clearly both incredibly talented authors and they work wonderfully together as a pair. Every aspect of the plot is spectacularly vivid. I was able to visualize everything so well, and I distinctly felt all the emotions the events of the story evoked.
So basically, I’m sort of completely obsessed with this novel—I already want to go back and read it again. It was action-packed and riveting from start to finish, and I found that I could barely put it down. I have been thinking about it non-stop since I began reading, and I am still so excited by every aspect. I am currently trying my hardest to be responsible and avoid picking up Gemina until after I’ve caught up on some review books, but the temptation is intense. Just in case it’s not obvious enough already, I very highly recommend reading Illuminae.