Book Review: Illuminae

Book Review:  IlluminaeIlluminae (The Illuminae Files, #1) by Amie Kaufman, Jay Kristoff
four-stars
Series: The Illuminae Files, #1
Published by Knopf Books for Young Readers on October 20th 2015
Genres: Science Fiction, Young Adult Fiction
Pages: 608
Source: Purchased
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Goodreads

MY REVIEW:

Illuminae is a book that has been on my To-Be-Read list forever.  Even though I thought it sounded like it would be a great read, there was so much hype surrounding it that I was hesitant, having been burned by a lot of overhyped books last year. Last week, however, I finally decided I had put off reading it long enough and dove in….Wow, what a wild and intense ride!  I won’t say that Illuminae is without its faults, but it’s such a unique reading experience and such an action-packed adrenaline rush that its faults are barely noticeable.

Equal parts science fiction and horror, Illuminae centers on Kady Grant, a high school student who thinks she’s having a rough day because she just had to break up with her long-time boyfriend Ezra Mason.  Her day gets a whole lot worse, however, when her planet is attacked without warning and people start dying all around her.  With everything in chaos and ruins around them, Kady and a few other survivors, including ex-boyfriend Ezra, are able to make their way on to an evacuating fleet of ships.  The fleet, which has sustained some damage in the assault, takes off but is immediately pursued by an enemy warship.  It becomes a race to see if they can make it to safety before they are taken out by those who attacked their planet.

Because so many perished on the planet, the ships are running with skeleton crews and so everyone aboard is recruited in some fashion, either to be conscripted into the military and trained for combat, which is what happens to Ezra, or if they are deemed to have other skill sets, they are trained accordingly.  Kady, it is determined, has a knack for computers, in particular, hacking, and so that becomes her area of expertise.  It’s all hands on deck to get the ships back up to full operating capacity so they can get to safety that much faster.

As if that isn’t enough, people on one of the ships are getting sick.  It turns out that a biological weapon of some sort was released during the attack and some of the survivors who made it onto the fleet are infected.  And to say they become sick is to put it mildly.  While initial symptoms are chills, sweating, and fever, they quickly morph into something much more deadly.  Those infected basically become violent zombies running around trying to kill their fellow passengers.  Needless to say, it’s pretty violent and horrific.

In the midst of all of this chaos, Kady starts to get the feeling that their leaders aren’t being 100% honest and so she decides to use her computer hacking skills to see if she can find out the truth about what’s really going on.  When she realizes she can’t trust anyone else, she turns to the one person she knows she can, her ex.  Ezra is on one of the other ships, but with her excellent hacking skills, Kady is able to contact him and start unraveling the mystery.

LIKES

What appealed to me most about Illuminae is that, first and foremost, it’s a survival story:  “First, survive.  Then tell the truth.” This tagline from the cover of the book says it all. I was engaged as soon as I read that and my brain immediately went into overdrive trying to decide what it meant – “Survive what?  Tell the truth about what?  What happens to the truth if no one survives?  Is this some kind of cover up?”  I loved all of the tension that this created throughout the story and of course the action-packed scenes as those aboard the fleet were doing everything they could to survive and make it to safety.

I also really loved Kady.  She is such a badass.  Fierce, feisty, incredibly skilled with computers, Kady is absolutely determined to find out the truth, even if she has to sacrifice herself to do it.  I also love that in a reversal of the usual stereotype, she saves her ex-boyfriend’s life when their planet comes under attack, rather than the other way around.

I also actually enjoyed the romantic angle of the story as well.  I liked the tension between Kady and Ezra because of their history, and I liked their banter. At times they were snarky and sarcastic, but it was also pretty clear they still had intense feelings for one another, broken up or not.  And I don’t know, maybe it was just because of the sci-fi setting or maybe it was the snarky banter, but I almost get a Han/Leia vibe from them, which being a Star Wars fans, I of course liked.  It would not have surprised me at all if they had popped up with an:  “I love you/I know” exchange the more dangerous the situation around them got.

The book’s unique structure.  The structure was just fabulous, like nothing I’ve ever read before.  Instead of just being a straightforward novel, Illuminae is structured as a series of interview transcripts, video surveillance, classified files, instant messages, computer readouts, and more.  It’s as if you’re reading all of the accumulated data from an actual investigation of what happened from the time of the attack through the fleet’s escape and all of the ensuing action.  While it did make for a somewhat slow read early on as I was getting acclimated to the format, once I got used to it, I devoured the book and was fascinated each time I turned the page and saw a new type of document.  Illuminae definitely gets bonus points for creativity here.

AIDAN.  It’s hard to talk about Aidan without giving away too many spoilery details, so I’m just going to say that Aidan was my absolute favorite part of this book.  Aidan is the artificial intelligence system that controls the lead fleet ship.  He’s initially super pragmatic as one would expect from an AI, but then Aidan starts doing unexpected things and it appears that he is out of control. But is there more to it than that?  I don’t want to give anything away but I was left wondering “Is it possible for an AI to have a coming of age moment?”

DISLIKES/ISSUES

For the most part, I really loved this book.  However, I was not 100% sold on all of the artsy pages that were randomly inserted throughout the story.  Some of them were cool and complemented the actual story, but there were a few that just felt unnecessary, especially for a book that is already nearly 600 pages long. It started to feel a bit gimmicky to me, especially the ones with the words shaped like ships.  It’s one of those bookish quirks of mine where when a book starts getting really long, I start questioning everything that feels like fluff or filler.  Does it really need to be there?

FINAL THOUGHTS

If you’re looking for an action-packed survival story that has a touch of romance, as well as a truly unique format, I’d say give Illuminae a try.  In my mind, I’m thinking it’s a great sci fi story for readers who don’t even usually enjoy sci fi.

RATING:  4 STARS

GOODREADS 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.

four-stars

About Amie Kaufman

Amie Kaufman is the New York Times bestselling co-author of Illuminae (with Jay Kristoff) and These Broken Stars, This Shattered World, and Their Fractured Light (with Meagan Spooner.) She writes science fiction and fantasy for teens, and her favourite procrastination techniques involve chocolate, baking, sailing, excellent books and TV, plotting and executing overseas travel, and napping.

She lives in Melbourne, Australia with her husband, their rescue dog, and her considerable library. She is represented by Tracey Adams of Adams Literary.

About Jay Kristoff

Jay Kristoff is the New York Times and internationally bestselling author of THE NEVERNIGHT CHRONICLE, THE ILLUMINAE FILES and THE LOTUS WAR. He is the winner of four Aurealis Awards, an ABIA, nominee for the David Gemmell Morningstar and Legend awards, named multiple times in the Kirkus and Amazon Best Teen Books list and published in over thirty countries, most of which he has never visited. He is as surprised about all of this as you are. He is 6’7 and has approximately 13030 days to live. He abides in Melbourne with his secret agent kung-fu assassin wife, and the world’s laziest Jack Russell.

He does not believe in happy endings.

20 replies
  1. Elise @ Roaming Reader
    Elise @ Roaming Reader says:

    I just finished this one too! I LOVED it! It seems I’m the only one who didn’t take a while to get use to the format. I loved the format from the start and thought it made the book a much quicker read!
    I loved the romance and the characters in general! Ezra is one of my favorite characters and I wish he was real!!! I was really surprised with AIDAN! I didn’t expect to like him, but he really made the end of the book!
    Elise @ Roaming Reader recently posted…The Good, The Bad, and The Spoilers: Illuminae

    Reply
  2. Jordan Rose
    Jordan Rose says:

    Totally agree with this being sci-fi for readers who don’t usually go for sci-fi — because that’s me! Haha, I enjoy a good sci-fi here and there, but it’s not my go to, so I was surprised and thrilled when I enjoyed Illuminae so much. And I totally get what you mean about some of the artsy pages becoming a bit gimmicky. I felt the same way and wasn’t sure exactly what it was supposed to represent other than a cool image, since every other page was an actual document-type thing. Fantastic review and I’m so glad you also loved it!
    Jordan Rose recently posted…Anticipated August 2017 Releases!

    Reply
    • Suzanne
      Suzanne says:

      I’m glad I’m not the only one who thought the artsy pages were kind of gimmicky. I was a little worried about mentioning it since so many others seem to love those pages.

      Reply
  3. Greg Hill
    Greg Hill says:

    Kady was great, and I loved the survival aspect of it too. A pretty desperate race against time, I loved the tension. I loved the format too. I’m with you on the extras though, like the words looping around and all that. I could have done without some of that… otherwise I loved it.

    I liked Gemina even more, although some people say they liked Illuminae more- but I thought gemina took it up to 11!
    Greg Hill recently posted…Sunday Post #205

    Reply
    • Suzanne
      Suzanne says:

      I’m really looking forward to reading Gemina after hearing how much you enjoyed it. I want to knock a few more backlist titles off my challenge list first and then I’ll be diving in.

      Reply
  4. Di @ Book Reviews by Di
    Di @ Book Reviews by Di says:

    Uh oh. THis one is on my TBR also… And before I even get anywhere in your review I’m seeing 4 stars… Which probably means I’m going to want to overturn my entire reading schedule.

    I love that Tagline and it really makes me want to read it more, and the fact that it’s a great description of the book makes it even better.

    Kady sounds like the sort of person I really want to read about and the sort of person I’d be able to easily connect with and a Han/Leia vibe from the romance would be awesome (also a SW fan over here!).

    600 pages is a bit of a downer… Especially as you say there are bits that didn’t necessarily have to be there. I think that would annoy me too…

    But overall I think I definitely need to get to this one soon – especially since you don’t have to usually enjoy scifi to enjoy this one.

    Amazing review!
    Di @ Book Reviews by Di recently posted…Weekly Round Up #40 : The One Where it’s the end of July

    Reply
  5. Genni @ Ready, Set, Read!
    Genni @ Ready, Set, Read! says:

    Great review! I do agree that some of the more artsy pages were more hindering than anything else. It kind of heart to try and read sometimes! I remember from reading it that it took a while for me to get acquainted with the way the story was told, but once I did I was hooked! If I remember correctly, there is less flowery imagery in the sequel. I hope you love Gemina!
    Genni @ Ready, Set, Read! recently posted…Mini Movie Reviews | Passengers, Baby Driver, Before I Fall

    Reply
    • Suzanne
      Suzanne says:

      Oh, I’m so glad to hear that about Gemina. I need to get through a few more of my backlist books first, but then I plan to jump into Gemina as soon as possible.

      Reply

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