Illuminae by Amie Kaufman and Jay Kristoff: A Review*

*and by review I actually mean rant.


Buckle down folks, you’re in for a ride.

Book One of the Illuminae Files
Allen&Unwin
2015
5/5 STARS
98.7% you need to read this.

“So here’s the file that almost killed me, Director”

This review will contain spoilers so I will attempt to upload a spoiler-free review, so if you have not read this series yet, have no fear – I should have that up by early next week (I’ll tweet about it, promise).

I will attempt to maintain a semblance of coherency in this review, I know in my last review I was still in the early stages of fangirl hysteria (yes, it exists), so it literally reads like that.

This book both blew and opened my mind. Does that make sense? Most likely not, but I will try to explain this mind-blowing awesomeness. Illuminae is a masterpiece of excellently written sci-fi/young adult fiction. The authors, Amie Kaufman and Jay Kristoff (@AmieKaufman and @misterkristoff), have honestly created such a captivating universe, with intriguing characters and a plot line that keeps you constantly on the edge. You become immersed in the conspiracy, in the action, in the emotions, in the characters – you care, you cry, you laugh and you hate with every fibre of your being.

The opening quote I used gives you the overall feel of the way this book operates. I’ll be honest with you: I have never read a book like this. Illuminae is not in the format usually transcribed to fiction – instead, the narrative is spoken through a ‘file’ containing emails, instant messaging conversations, transcriptions of video surveillance, memorandums, records from artificial intelligent systems (I WILL TALK ABOUT THIS MORE DO NOT WORRY), classified documentation, ship announcements, maps, ship posters etc. The format itself speaks to the way in which the book presents the narrative. And if you are of the opinion that a novel created this way lessens the degree of interest, you are quite possibly, so completely wrong. I was, however, terrified that this book would disappoint. How many times do you hear or see a book that absolutely everyone is reading and loving and there is no record of anyone having actually disliked it and it can be kind of intimidating as a reader; especially when the book does not entirely live up to the hype (read: Holding Up the Universe by Jennifer Niven). It happens, though, more often than you think, and it is the most heartbreaking moment to a book-lover – especially if you spent your hard-earned money on it – only or it to fall fantastically flat.

This book was the complete opposite. It did not disappoint, it fucking transcended all of my expectations. ALL OF THEM. I am already in need for the next book in the series but I have to waaiitttt and it’s so harrrrddddd. I just fucking love this series soo bloody much.

The Illuminae Files is the name of the series and of the ‘document’ itself which is introduced to us on the very first page. A collection of content in order to discover the truth and expose the corruption and conspiracy within BeiTech Industries specifically; although other issues arise also pertaining to the governing bodies of authority. The file itself is addressed to Executive Director Frobisher, a character whose life you will eventually plan to end, by the anonymous Illuminae Group. Now, the anonymity does not stay so for long – you will have your suspicions from the get-go and those suspicions will be correct *cough* Kady and co. *cough* – but this does not decrease the reader’s interest. The first page concludes with a quote from George Orwell :”In a time of universal deciet, telling the truth is a revolutionary act.” The 599 pages of Illuminae is a testament to the underlying idea of this quote. This is a story about the actions of not only the two main characters, Kady Grant and Ezra Mason, but of a cast of kickass lovable characters, who are all pushed together in a race to uncover the truth. It’s all about surviving enough to tell the story. And that in itself is where the revolution begins.

Well, let’s get straight into this, shall we?
The blurb gives quite a concise and neat summary of what you may find upon venturing into this universe but does not warn you that your life will forever be irrevocably changed:

The year is 2575, and two rival mega-cooperations – BLANK and BLANK – 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. Exes Kady and Ezra – who are barely even talking to each other – are forced to fight their way onto the evacuating fleet, with an enemy warship in hot pursuit.

But the warship is the least of their problems. A deadly BLANK 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 the BLANK is going on. As Kady hacks into a tangled web of data to find the truth, it’s clear only one person who can help her bring it all to light: the ex-boyfriend she swore she’d never speak to again.

*screams into the abyss*

It is literally a rollercoaster of shit-that-just-keeps-on-happening. And it’s nail-bitingly fantastic. It is a stunning, reactive, original story and I highly recommend reading it. It takes place in a futuristic world where humans are settling in worlds across galaxies and usually having a jolly good time making wormholes, jump stations and travelling at the speed of light. Jumping into it, it kind of reminded me of Star Trek (which I love, like am the fucking captain of the Kirk and Spock starship), but maintaining its originality. Obviously, when stories that take place in space are written, it’s so easy to compare and contrast with pre-existing fictional universes that also situate themselves in similar contexts – try not to do that too much because it ruins the book you are reading. There is no ‘origin story’ so to speak, the reader does not know anything but what is given from the outset – you are completely in the hands of the narrator, you go where they want you to go; you see what they want you to see but you forge links and think about the evidence in a way that is wonderfully proactive. You are placed alongside Ezra and Kady in discovering the truth.

Now these two characters – although you will be introduced to a range of characters who will hit you in the heart – are utterly fabulous. Disclaimer, though: I did not feel as connected with Ezra than I did with the other characters. He’s character though was adorable – his feelings towards Kady and his unrelenting strength literally endears you to him immediately – but, for me, it was a superficial connection. Love his character, but I would not scream my love for him out loud. I found that I connected so much more with Kady. I want to be Kady Grant when I grow up. She is a hacker extraordinaire, will do anything for the people she loves, she is strong, courageous, take-no-shit, awesome woman who I feel, single-handedly pushed this narrative forward. This book needed a character like Kady in order to reach its three-dimensional fullness.

Did that even make sense? Oh well, I’m sticking to it.

Although heaps of shit happens; Kady and Ezra for the most part, are on separate ships – the Alexander and the Hypatia. They work alongside each other to figure out why the fuck random disastrous shit keeps on happening. And one of the key figures in this investigation is the artificial intelligence system on board the Alexander and responsible for the defence navigation of the entire fleet. See, Alexander is a battlecarrier, enabled with the power to generate ephemeral jump gates for interstellar travels and is also completely nuked up. The system that runs the ship itself is called AIDAN and I have completely forgotten what that stands for (so if yall know, let me know in the comments below). AIDAN is my problematic fave. You will figure out why when you actually read the book, but for me, AIDAN is one of the most fascinating characters I have read. Considering we only read about him through the records and transcripts surviving from within his intelligence core (I’m guessing his hard-drive?), he is an incredibly nuanced character. He (I say ‘he’ but AIDAN is an intelligence system so is it gendered – does he use pronouns? I’m pretty sure they refer to AIDAN with male pronouns but I’m not 100% sure) becomes damaged from the battle at Kerenza, the home planet of Ezra and Kady and the catalyst for ‘operation take down BeiTech Industries and hopefully survive’; and in an effort to protect his ship, he completely destroys another, the Copernicus. AIDAN does this in a merciful bid to spare the innocent lives aboard that ship from becoming mindless, violent, killing zombies as a result of possible infection called the phobos virus – another biochemical weapon created by BeiTech Industries. This virus is one scary ass virus and I enjoyed the apocalyptic element to it. There is literally action happening on all sides (don’t forget there is also the battlecarrier Lincoln from BeiTech Industries on their tail ready to bloody nuke them into nothingness). AIDAN does, therefore, begin to embody aspects of a villain but also quite quickly, there is a redemptive element to his character development. Maybe redemptive is the wrong word, but he does partner up with Kady and forges somewhat of a friendship. You will eventually come to adore him. He is one of my favourite characters in the series and when he made an appearance in GEMINA I cried. I cried actual tears in this too, because although he is a homicidal psychopathic AI, he gets feelings and then I GET FEELINGS and then there’s just emotions everywhere. I think there is a creative sort of beauty in AIDAN’S character itself, because although he is by definition supposed to be perfect – he is a computer, man-made to not make human mistakes – he is soo completely flawed and slightly crazy and I don’t think I can possibly articulate how much his character made me emotional. You’ll just have to experience it.

I feel as though I should also point out that a lot of people die in this book. Like, a lot. Sometimes though you think a character has died and then BOOM he ain’t dead and life is great/horrible again. The twists and turns in this book are phenomenal (wait until you find out who orchestrated the battle of Kerenza and everything else holy shit balls). I really bow down to Kaufman and Kristoff; this book and this series overall is fantastic. If you enjoy action, space, kickass characters with a side of psychopathy, then this book is for you.

I most likely have glossed over everything that is significant, but I think there needs to be an element of mystery so that yall can actually go out and read this series. I hope to bring you a review/rant on GEMINA soon, so keep your ears out for that (and I’ll most likely alert y’all on twitter).

Also, just as a side-note, I highly encourage you to follow both Kaufman and Kristoff on twitter because they are everything and they bring me joy.

Happy reading!

Alliee

@allieereads

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