Published by Knopf
Published on October 20th 2015
Genres: Action & Adventure, Dystopian / Post-Apocalyptic, Love & Romance, Space Opera, Thriller, Young Adult
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.
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.
I apologize in advance for what’s going to be a terrible review. I say this sometimes, but I promise this time I actually mean it. I’m worried that I won’t be able to write a coherent review, because it took me over a month to read Illuminae. I started it in mid-December but then had to drop reading, reviewing, and blogging for a while in order to focus on school and university applications. I picked the book back up in January and finished it in a few days. I don’t really remember the first half at all, but I’ll give this a go anyway. Hopefully I haven’t forgotten how to write reviews!
Illuminae is most definitely unlike any other book I’ve ever read. It’s so unique in so many ways, and it is a book I will not be forgetting for a while. I’d be foolish not to open with the aspect that perhaps sets Illuminae apart the most from other YA books: Illuminae is a visual masterpiece. It tells us a hell of a story, sure, but what makes the book so cool is how it does that. As you’ve surely heard by now, Illuminae is told not through a narrator but through a huge collection of documents and data: there are transcripts of messages and conversations, analyses of security camera footage, gorgeous diagrams, data from computer software, and and other really innovative methods of communicating information. I was doubtful that this would ever work, but it absolutely did. In fact, I can’t imagine the story being told another way.
One of the reasons why this method of story telling worked was because the book itself had so many things going on at any given time. Illuminae is not a straight-forward story. I’ll try to explain it briefly and in simpler terms. Centuries in the future, inhabitants of a distant planet are forced to evacuate as another colony attacks them. They escape on a couple of huge-ass space vehicles and run away, but a huger-ass space vehicle is chasing them and gaining ground. Sounds intense, right? Throw in an artificial intelligence system gone completely haywire, a contagious virus that is wiping out thousands of passengers, two recently broken up teenagers, and now you’ve got Illuminae. When you’ve got all these storylines evolving simultaneously, one narrator, or even two, is not going to be able to give you the full picture.
This story is filled with intensity and drama, and at times it can get a little overwhelming. Illuminae never gives you a moment to catch your breath, which sounds like a good thing, but it actually hindered my enjoyment of the book a couple of times. The book charges on at full steam for 600 pages, and if you get even the slightest bit confused, well, it sucks to be you! I love fast-paced books but Illuminae was so full of high-octane drama that there was no time for me to absorb all of the information streaming into my brain. There’s a lot of acting and reacting going on for the characters, but not a lot of thinking. And sometimes it was a bit too much for my little brain to handle. I ended up having to flip back often to find information I had missed.
Another thing that I had a problem with was the ending. I can’t talk about it without spoiling it, so I’ll just say that the conclusion didn’t fit the tone of the entire book at all, which really jarred me. It was also predictable and I saw it coming 200 pages in advance, which was slightly disappointing.
Kady and Ezra are strong leads. Kady is your run-of-the-mill YA female protagonist: kick-ass, brave, and quick-witted. (Seems like that’s the formula for EVERY female lead nowadays.) Most of her character development comes near the end, when she completely opens up to readers and we get to see some RAW emotion. I didn’t really like her too much up until that point, so I’m happy that the authors decided to showcase Kady in a really vulnerable, broken state to give her character some real depth. I can’t say the same about Ezra, who was a little disappointing. I’m trying to think of stuff to say about him but all that comes to mind is that he’s a cheesy romantic with a goofy. I didn’t hate him- I just found that there wasn’t a lot of substance to his character, and nothing to set him apart from other male leads in YA.
I also found the romance forced and contrived. The connection between Kady and Ezra just didn’t really feel smooth or natural, and some interactions were so overcooked with cheese that I actually looked away. There was some dialogue between Kady and Ezra that was downright unbearable. Ezra in particular is a 12.5 on the Cheez-o-meter.
Let’s talk about AIDAN. AIDAN is the artificial intelligence system on the ship that controls its inner functions, defense systems, and missiles. It’s basically a calculator that can talk. AIDAN is perhaps the most interesting part of the book, mostly because it brings up a stunning debate between man and machine. You see, AIDAN initially prides itself on being devoid of emotion. It makes its decisions based on logic, calculations, and probability. In essence, it is Kady’s perfect foil. Kady, like any human, is driven by emotion and feeling. While AIDAN is willing to sacrifice some to save others, Kady values every human life dearly and feels a strong need to save everyone- not just the majority. This constant (and increasingly intense) back and forth between Kady and AIDAN is a brilliant exposition about the incompatibility of logic with emotion. We all have these battles, where the brain is telling us one thing and the heart is telling us another. Some of the toughest decisions we make in life are those where we have to choose between the brain and the heart, which is why I found this aspect of the book so compelling.
Illuminae is a breathtaking and thrilling space opera that grabs your attention immediately and never lets go. The story itself is brilliant, but the way the story is told is what really makes the book stand out to me. I had my fair share of problems with the book, but I can overlook most of these faults because the other elements of the book are so strong. I highly recommend Illuminae to those who are sick and tired of reading the same book over and over again. Trust me, you’ve never read a book quite like Illuminae. And you probably never will.
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