Truth be told, I’ve never been a big sci-fi fan. I know to most people dystopia comes under the sci-fi bracket, but to me they’re totally different genres, at least that’s what I thought until I read Illuminae. This book shatters the barrier I put up between sci-fi and dystopia and combines them to create something truly unique and thrilling that left me fighting for breath.
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 one of the 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.
The most obvious part of this book that makes it a stand-out is the way it’s written. Unlike almost every other book I’ve read, Illuminae doesn’t use conventional narrative, instead presents us with a collection of hacked documents, transcripts, emails, security camera footage write-ups, interviews, military files and more. This is hands-down the most brilliant way I’ve ever seen story be told and it works so well. The story sucked me in so deep and so ferociously, I couldn’t even pause to breath.
Whilst the book’s written as a “file” documenting the hows and whats of the story, somehow (which I’m in complete awe at) the authors still managed to create two very individual, very real voices; Kady and Ezra. Given that the book is an epistolary book, I didn’t expect the character development to come across as strongly as in a novel where we follow the character’s story first hand, but oh how I was wrong! The authors managed to give us insights into the characters through simple things like misspelt words in messages or abbreviations, the security camera narrator feeling in need of a clean pair of trousers after what he saw, and even things like swearing. As a result of lots of the files included in Illuminae being emails, messages and transcripts, they had very real, very personal voices. You have to read it yourself to fully get how cleverly it’s written.
Kady isn’t what you’d expect as the heroine of a dystopian book. She doesn’t set out to become a saviour of society or the face of a revolution, partly because there isn’t a revolution. That’s another thing that’s so refreshing about this book – Kady doesn’t rebel in plain sight against the authorities, because they themselves are trying to overthrow the computer system, Aidan. The whole system is so messed up that there’s no “good” or “bad” at all onboard the ship, just people, a computer system and an approaching enemy ship.
What I love about Kady is she doesn’t sound anything but her age; throughout the whole book I completely believed she was 17 which is unfortunately a rarity in most books. Much of the time authors write what they think is a 17 year old, but who actually sounds like a 25 year old or an 11 year old. Not here though!
Another thing I really enjoyed about this book (and this might sound really juvenile) was guessing which swear-word was which! All of the words that are “foul” are blacked out because, and I quote, “god forbid there be cussing in it, right?” even though the actual story is pretty gruesome and swearing wouldn’t have changed that. This worked so much better than I thought it would, because you still get the desired impact of the swearing (anger, fear, tension etc.), but it also shows just how ridiculous the corporation is by them not wanting to see foul language, but are willing to slaughter thousands of people… hmmmm.
For a book so disturbing and brutal (and sometimes absolutely terrifying!), Amie Kaufman and Jay Kristoff managed to create a “lightness” within the story which offset the darkness, through the unique layout and subtle humour. Every character had their own quirk and way of speaking, even through emails, messages and transcripts, which made the realness of the story come across.
There were a few points in this book that truly broke my heart; crumpled it, threw it away and left it to rot. I’m not a person who normally cries at books (call me cold-hearted!), but I did cry at this one. Everything was just so beautifully written and woven together that the twists in the story had a huge impact.
I’d never say not to read a book because of your age, but I’d definitely say Illuminae is for the older bracket in YA, mainly because of how tense and gruesome it becomes. Also, because of the complexity of the story it might not be an easy read for younger readers, but it definitely does all piece together as you read on. If you read one book this summer, make it this one. I couldn’t recommend it enough or properly put into words just how incredible this book is, so go and read it and see for yourself!
Book 2 of the Illuminae files, Gemina, is out October 13th 2016, so make sure to preorder your copy. I’ll be sharing my review of Gemina soon, so make sure to look out for that!
Have you read Illuminae by Jay Kristoff and Amie Kaufman? Share your thoughts in the comments so we can delight/freak-out together!