Illuminae by Amie Kaufman and Jay Kristoff is one of those books that used to be super popular on Booktube. At a certain point I felt like everyone had read it – except me. Here’s why: I was always a little scared of this book.
Illuminae isn’t a normal book. It’s an epistolary novel, which is a fancy way of saying that the book is written through a series of documents. Most epistolary novels are written through letters, but not Illuminae, no. This book is written through found documents: e-mails, reports, interview transcripts, instant messages and the thoughts of an evil (?) artificial intelligence system. Not to mention that the book is an actual work of art. So its anything but a normal reading experience.
When I started reading the book, I was afraid of one thing: because the storytelling and artwork is such an important part of the story, I was afraid the characters wouldn’t be as fleshed out as other novels. Boy, was I wrong!
Basic plot premise: The year is 2575 and we follow two teenagers: Kady and Ezra, who live on a planet called Kerenza (lots of intergalactic stuff here, it’s a science fiction novel after all). Kerenza is home to an illegal mining colony and ends up being completely destroyed by BeiTech Industries, a rival corporation. Some of the people manage to get away in spaceships, including our main characters, and we follow them as they try to get to safety, with BeiTech still on their heels.
Not to mention that this attack happened on the day that Kady dumped Ezra – talk about bad timing.
As a huge fan of books with quirky formatting, this was my jam. Whenever I see letters, ‘found’ documents or anything else in books (basically documents that the characters are also aware of) I live for that. Buried also had something like that going on (although in a much more low key manner) and I loved it there too. For me it makes the world so much more rich. There are blueprints (!) of the spaceships (!) Although I obviously know it’s a fictional story, feeling like you’re reading a file carefully put together by someone else is so cool. I totally pretend I’m an FBI agent reading it that’s trying to solve the mystery.
Was I confused some of the time? Sure. You know when you first start reading a big fantasy novel and it hits you with a ton of backstory and you’re just like ehhh? sure? This kinda feels like that. The authors really had to solve so many narrative problems with a format that basically doesn’t allow for world building or exposition except for when it naturally occurs in the dialogue. Like, it must be so hard to make it sound natural but also give enough information to keep the reader in the loop. I think you have to be okay with it being a little vague at times. If you read something for the first time and you don’t really understand it in context, just make a little mental (or physical) note, because it 100% will come back later. I also found it helpful to highlight important info.
In fact, I just finished The Illuminae files #2 (Gemina) and after finishing book #3, I’m already planning to reread the series. I think I will pick up on so many more intricate details the second time around.
”Am I not merciful?”– AIDAN
The romance: I was actually so invested! Which I was NOT expecting at all. I like YA, but I don’t usually pick it up for the romance. Especially towards the end I was just sobbing through the pages and hoping everything would turn out fine in the end! It was very stressful but also very awesome. Not to mention AIDAN – the artificial intelligence aboard the spaceship. This is such a cool and original character to read about, I’ve never encountered anything quite like it in fiction. I love how the character is a little morally gray (or slightly psychotic) and has a ton of personality, even though he’s literally a computer.
Read Illuminae if you like:
- Cool intergalactic space stuff: Think Star Wars. And other famous space things I can’t think of right now.
- Low-key romance: the romance is definitely there and it is actually a main drive for both of the characters, but it isn’t all consuming.
- Cool word art: (no not the Microsoft word art, ACTUALLY cool word art).
- Messy books: Again, I still have one more book to read in this series but I already know that Amie Kaufman and Jay Kristoff do NOT shy away from killing off characters and writing violence in their books. The stakes feel so high.
- Plot twists: they will blow your mind. That’s all I’m saying.
Name: Illuminae (The Illuminae Files #1)
Authors: Amie Kaufman and Jay Kristoff
Publication date: October 2015
Length: 620 pages
Final rating: ★★★★★
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