Book Review: Illuminae

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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 a speck at the edge of the universe. Now with enemy fire raining down on them, Kady and Ezra—who are barely even talking to each other—are forced to evacuate with a hostile warship in hot pursuit.

But their problems are just getting started. A plague has broken out and is mutating with terrifying results; the fleet’s AI may actually be their enemy; and nobody in charge will say what’s really going on. As Kady hacks into a web of data to find the truth, it’s clear the only person who can help her is the ex-boyfriend she swore she’d never speak to again.

I didn’t have a concrete TBR for September; I had a group of books that I wanted to read, but had been putting off for various reasons. Illuminae was one of these books. I admit that it intimidated me, because it’s huge and has a non-traditional format. In other words, I committed a mortal reading sin: I judged a book by its appearance. This ended up being a huge mistake on my part, because Illuminae is a wild ride.

The Good

Instead of being written in chapters, Illuminae is a series of “files” that tell a story, from emails to reproduced memos to instant messages. Since the story takes place mostly in space, there are even full-page illustrations of various spaceships. While this format intimidated me at first, it ended up being a substantial reason why I enjoyed the book. Even though Illuminae looks behemoth, the story moves quickly, because you aren’t reading paragraphs upon paragraphs of text. I also felt like the informal way the characters communicated with each other, as well as the multiple voices that we were able to hear from, connected me to them even without traditional story-telling methods.

This is not to say Illuminae wouldn’t stand well without its original format; the story itself was gripping and terrifying, to the point where I literally couldn’t put it down. The way Illuminae portrays the future is relatable, and really makes you think about where the world could be headed one day. For example, a major part of the narrative comes from AIDAN, the main spaceship’s artificial intelligence program, and let me just say: those parts are harrowing yet oddly compelling. Like… I now have feelings for a fictional AI program, and those feelings are complicated.

As for my feelings for the main characters, Kady and Ezra, I loved them right away. Each has a great sense of humor, even in the darkest hours. Kady is brave and brilliant, and I was rooting for her the whole time.

The Bad

Some of the illustrations that include text aren’t very easy to read. For example, a few pages have text that is printed in loops, as if trailing multiple space crafts, and I ended up skipping almost all of them. From what I could see, the prose was beautiful, but I quickly grew tired of having to twist my neck and the book to try to read it.

Also, Kady and Ezra’s relationship seemed to be at one extreme or another; they either loathed each other or they loved each other, and the transition was almost nonexistent. But I suppose this comes with the territory of constant near-death experiences?

The Verdict

Illuminae’s non-traditional format, as well as the brilliant main characters, make for a thrilling, refreshing read. The book is both science fiction and romance, with a touch of terror, so it has a little something for everyone. The sequel, Gemina, is set to release October 18, so you can bet I’m snapping that up ASAP!

Rating: ★★★★

 

 

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