“It’s not the bullets that kill you. It’s moments like these. One piece at a time.”
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.
BRIEFING NOTE: 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.
It’s going to be very hard for me to cohesively and coherently describe the way this book made me feel, but I’m going to try. Here we go.
Illuminae has always been a popular YA sci-fi book on my radar. When Barnes & Noble had their end of summer 50% sale with Illuminae included, I decided it was time to finally give it my attention. Let’s begin with on-page design and plot.
As stated in the synopsis, this book breaks boundaries in its narration via multimedia format. It is told in a myriad of formats including drawings, posters, calligrams and more. Going into this book, I feared the intricate design of it would distract from the plot for nonessential aesthetic purposes. To my pleasant surprise, the multimedia formats actually enhanced the plot by making it even more engaging.
The beginning interviews provide first-hand accounts of the invasion. The surveillance footage transcriptions provide heart-pounding suspense and believably high stakes. I was gripped by all of it from beginning to end.
The plot of Illuminae takes turns I did not anticipate. The series of events become more and more urgent and seemingly insurmountable. Emotions definitely run high throughout this gripping novel.
Because so much of this book is an experience, I’m going to leave it there for plot. My warning? Be ready to be anxious.
The characters of Illuminae are breath-taking. Kady and Ezra are our human main characters, and Aidan is the semi-sentient artificial intelligence commanding their fleet. Let’s begin with Kady and Erza.
Kady and Ezra are fantastic main characters because they are believable. Their driving motivation is clear: survival. Their emotions constantly run high, which is completely understandable for the situation they are in. However, the concept that I really want to highlight about Kady and Ezra is the fact that they are strong, but not unrealistically so.
Kady has journal entries throughout the book that highlight her deepest fears about the things happening around her. She longs for her mom’s protection when the going gets tough. Mason covers his anxiety and fear with dark humor. He mourns his dad who died during the invasion. These characters never lose their aura of adolescence.
My point here is the fact that their situation has inevitably forced them to deal with and grow because of things they never have before, but they handle it as 18-year-old’s believably would. In other words, if they were all fight and no fear, I’d have a bone to pick with the way they coped with the gravity of their situation. Kaufman and Kristoff have ensured that I don’t have that bone to pick.
[Kady’s Journal] “I want my mom. I WANT MY MOM… Please, I want my mom. I can’t do this on my own.”
[Ezra] “It was like that when my dad died. Like, sometimes I’d be talking about him to the guys and I’d realize I was using ‘is’ instead of ‘was.’ Like he was still here. Part of me just wouldn’t believe it.”
I could go on and on and on. I truly, deeply loved these two main characters of Illuminae. They are strong, realistic, and undoubtedly human.
Quickly, let’s talk about Aidan. So many aspects of Aidan’s “character” drifts off into spoiler territory, so I want to touch solely on how incredible it was to me to have sentient AI, and allowing it to be in charge of so many lives.
With this book being a sci-fi set in the year 2575, there’s no surprise that there was a presence of some type of artificial intelligence. I just didn’t expect the AI to be sentient, overriding, and multi-faceted.
It was also interesting to me how Kaufman and Kristoff wrote Aidan to be suspended in this state of double-consciousness. Aidan knows that it is fundamentally numbers and code and therefore cannot “die” or feel pain. Simultaneously, it is also complicated by the fact that it is aware of itself and the position of power it holds. It gives this “character” the role of a complicated antagonist, and it left me both hating and loving it.
[Aidan] “Why did they give me this sense of self? Why allow me the intellect by which to measure this complete inadequacy? I would rather be numb than stand here in the light of a sun that can never chase the chill away.”
Finally, what would be a review without a discussion on the romance?
Kady and Ezra’s romance was yet another thing that made them feel incredibly realistic as teenagers in a deadly situation. When you put yourself in their position, the high-strung, all-or-nothing approach they take with each other makes crystal clear sense. When a single glimmer of hope is found in one person in a world of despair, I’d imagine anyone would go for it—all or nothing.
[Kady] “So here’s the thing. My people are gone. My stuff is gone. Nobody’s left who knows me, there’s nothing left to say who I am. Everything’s gone, except one thing. One person. Time to go get him. Or die trying.”
I have not a single bad thing to say about this book. I loved it from beginning to end and found no inconveniences during my reading experience. I’d honestly encourage everyone to give this book and this series a spot on your shelf. Even if it’s just a try.