review: Illuminae

Great news – I finally finished ILLUMINAE. Here is my review for the unusually formatted first book from writing duo Amie Kaufman and Jay Kristoff.

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ILLUMINAE by Amie Kaufman & Jay Kristoff

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 mega-corporations 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.

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.

TITLE.

I was curious as to how the title would tie in with the novel, and it does – although not until the very end, as I suspected, in a way that will set up future novels. GEMIMA, it’s sequel, will be released in a couple of weeks.

COVER.

It can be rare that a novel’s cover can set up the style of presentation and overall aesthetics of the novel, but in the case of ILLUMINAE, the police-report style to the cover is reflected in the way the narrative is told.

PLOT.

At first it feels very much like a documentary in terms of how multiple sources of information are collated together – and I have to admit, at first this did distract me and made it a little difficult to figure out what was going on. My advice: make sure you read the book in one sitting as much as possible. Don’t be tempted to step away from it unless you really have to. One you figure out the basic plot you may have to re-read a few chapters and suddenly everything will make sense. The clues are there, you just have to do a bit of work to find them. I was surprisingly creeped out by the ‘zombie’ aspect, which isn’t something I expected, and something I suppose shows how immersive the world became once I understood what was going on.

CHARACTERS.

There are many characters in ILLUMINAE you don’t get time to meet properly. I was blown away by the perspective of the AI, written in white text on a black background – you’ll know when you’ve hit in in the second half of the novel. These pages become wildly poetic and while you can read them line by line, they’re generally details not necessary for a fundamental understanding of the plot.

OVERALL.

I gave ILLUMINAE a 4-4.5* – for me, especially compared to NEVERNIGHT, it wasn’t quite a 5* but what the first half lacks, the second part completely blows out of the water. Hopefully GEMIMA, the sequel (which I’m now much more hyped for) will create tension throughout by presenting all characters in a way that allows the reader to connect. The dialogue between Kady and the AI was a twist I wasn’t expecting, and a self-aware AI writing poetry is completely unlike anything else I’ve ever seen or read.


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