Review: ‘Illuminae’ by Amie Kaufman and Jay Kristoff

Illuminae

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.

This book, you guys. I pre-ordered it because I love both Amie’s and Jay’s other books, and then took a month to pick it up due to life and other things. Also, I confess, I found the 600-odd pages quite daunting.

I shouldn’t have.

Despite the length, Illuminae is a very easy read (and I suspect, due to the design, has tens of thousands less words than your average 600 pager). Once I started it, I devoured it in about two days; it would’ve been faster but pesky life things got in the way.

If you haven’t heard of Illuminae by now, the first thing you should know about it is that it is ground-breaking in its design. The “found footage” vibe is conveyed not just through the (excellent) writing but through the book’s internal layout. You really get the feeling that you’re holding a dossier of documents that has been cultivated from various sources about the events at Karenza (Kady and Ezra’s home planet) and what follows.

The end result is that the atmosphere this “weird little bookthing” (as Jay Kristoff calls it) conveys is of epic proportions. The creeping dread associated with the plague gave me the shivers, as did pretty much any transcript associated with the crazy AI, AIDAN. (And yet, AIDAN was also my favourite character. Don’t judge me!)

I loved both Kady and Ezra too; although I will never have a book crush on the latter, I did love his sense of humour. And Kady was all the things you want from a young adult leading lady: clever, empathetic, and a little bit sly. Her resilience in particular is off the charts, which, given the circumstances, is probably for the best. 😉

There are also some great little sci-fi easter eggs in Illuminae, such as a sneaky reference to Red Dwarf and a nod to 2001: A Space Odyssey. Another, more personal source of joy for me was spotting all the names of victims that I recognised in the various lists (Jay and I used to move in the same circles and have a lot of friends in common — friends who seem to have all died horribly at one point or another)!

It’s a big call, but I think Illuminae is my favourite read of 2015. It’s definitely in my top two. Read it. Give it to your friends for Christmas.

PS I am counting this review against my Australian Women Writers challenge, because it is at 50% written by an Australian woman. So nyah!

Five stars

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