ILLUMINAE by Amie Kaufman & Jay Kristoff
Updated: May 20
If you haven't read The Illuminae Files then you need to. Go. Read it. Right now.
I cannot praise this book enough. I haven't even read the next two books in the series and I already know I'll love them, purely based on the amazing story that Amie Kaufman and Jay Kristoff have woven with Illuminae. In fact, as soon as I finished Illuminae I bought its sequels, Gemina and Obsidio, as well as the prequel novella Memento that came as a gift when people preordered Aurora Rising (another book on my ever-growing TBR pile).
AIs and wars and diseases, oh my!
This book was chock-full of action. Even when I felt like nothing was going on, there was always something going on in the background that you would find out about later. It jumped from document to document (more on that in the format section) and person to person and even though there were a lot of characters, I felt connected to just about all of them. I felt sad when a minor character supposedly died. I actually cried when I found out they definitely did.
This book was basically a rollercoaster. It starts out with an invasion of a planet and ends with the knowledge that the people who started that invasion will pay a steep price. In between, there is a zombie-like disease outbreak (the Phobos virus), a psychotic AI (named AIDAN), lots of death (it does seem to be what Jay Kristoff is known for) and, of course, some romance (seriously, I think it's impossible not to root for Kady and Ezra).
Everything was so well thought out, even the most minor detail somehow managed to be important to the big picture. I have no idea how one, let alone two authors could pull all this off without getting lost in the plot, but Kaufman and Kristoff not only did it but did it spectacularly.
If you're wanting a slow-paced book, this is not the book for you. Each page makes you want to keep flipping to devour more of the story and leaves you begging for more at the end. You want to know how the story continues in the next installments of The Illuminae Files. It doesn't necessarily end on a cliffhanger, but it definitely leaves the story open for more (obviously).
Kady: First up we have the primary main character, Kady Grant. This tech-genius is what keeps the story moving. We follow her the most as the story progresses. She is a ball of sass and snark and I loved her from the get-go. Going by the IM name of ByteMe, Kady is a pink-haired supernova in human skin. It's no wonder that Ezra loves her so much.
Ezra: While Kady is the main driving force of the novel, Ezra Mason is the force driving Kady. He is the secondary main character. Described as kind of a lovable goof, Ezra goes through a drastic change as the war and being conscripted to be a fighter jet pilot take their toll on him. All that being said, Ezra adores Kady with all his heart and you just can't help but love him for his loyalty and silly side.
AIDAN: AIDAN, which stands for Artificial Intelligence Defense Analytics Network, is the human-like AI aboard the spaceship Alexander. Tasked with protecting the fleet but damaged in the initial invasion, AIDAN is both lovable and terrifying. He makes the choices that he feels will best protect both the fleet and himself, even if those choices are morally questionable. Even though AIDAN is an AI, I think he was probably my favorite character in the book. I can't be the only one that's a sucker for a misunderstood murderer, right?
I will admit, I was at first thrown off a bit by the formatting of this book. Everything and I mean everything is told through collected, mostly digital, documents. From psych evaluations to interviews to captain's logs to IMs, this is basically the first book I've ever read where the narrative is told through documents instead of a "regular" narrative format. Sometimes, the actual writing was integrated into a kind of illustration, so those points were a little hard to read. Especially when those pieces of "illustration" text went into the crease of the book.
That all being said, I absolutely loved the formatting. It was so unique and it definitely led the book to have an even deeper sci-fi feel, in my opinion. Not only that, but certain elements of the story would have been lost without the formatting. For example, I feel like we would have lost the tension of the back-and-forth IMs between Ezra and Kady, who were on two entirely different spaceships. It's not like they were talking to each other face-to-face or over the phone, they were messaging each other. And I feel like the emotions and feelings of the narrative would have been altered drastically if the IMs had been forced to be confined to a "normal" narrative format.
There were times where the book read like a "normal" book, but even those pieces had added humor because the analyst that was transcribing them from video feeds had a personality all their own. Nothing was boring about this format. It could be a bit much for some people, but for me, it was a fantastic and very immersive experience.
As you could tell by my opening paragraphs, I loved this book. I usually say that I'm not that interested in sci-fi, but after reading this book I may have to change my tune! I'm already starting to look at other sci-fi books, in hopes that I find another novel as fantastic as Illuminae. I still need to start the next book of the series, but I'm putting it off a little for now to give me more time to digest everything I read in the first book. But, rest assured, I will definitely be reading the next installment of The Illuminae Files soon!
You have me. Until the last star in the galaxy dies. You have me.