Review: Illuminae by Amie Kaufman and Jay Kristoff

“Am I not merciful?”   

It has been almost three years since I have read a YA novel. 2012, if I remember correctly. For some reason, I had suddenly believed YA was boring – for young teens, not for newly-turned 18 year olds.

I can’t believe I ever thought that.

Young adult fiction is, simply put, fucking incredible.

I finally jumped back on the bandwagon with Illuminae, from the combined minds of Amie Kaufman, author of the Starbound series, and Jay Kristoff, author of the Lotus War series.

The story follows exes Kady and Ezra after two rival corporations decide to go to war, resulting in the destruction of their home planet, Kerenza. As refugees, Kady and Ezra are taken in by two separate rescue spaceships, the Alexander and the Hypatia, with the enemy warship the Lincoln in pursuit. That, however, is the least of their problems: A deadly virus breaks out aboard the Alexander, and the ship’s artificial intelligence system, AIDAN, may secretly be trying to kill them all. Kady, a genius-level hacker, takes matters into her own hands, as the people in charge refuse to explain just what the hell is going on. The only person who is able to help her discover the truth is her ex-boyfriend, Ezra.

The most fascinating aspect of this novel is that it is told entirely through hacked classified documentation, emails, interviews, messenger-chats, and transcripts. I spent a long while before reading this book simply flipping through the pages and marvelling over how awesomely cool it looked.

You’d think that written entirely through documents wouldn’t necessarily make you fall in love with the characters, but you would be very, very wrong. Kady is kick ass: she is snarky, sarcastic and has issues with authority, though deep-down she’s a sweetheart. Ezra is an extremely cute dork, and very easy to fall in love with. The moments they talk about their year-long relationship were incredibly sweet, and made me squeal in delight.

The plot. The plot. It’s so intense and well-thought out, I was mad I didn’t come up with something like it. It’s clear the authors did their research on sci-fi, spaceships, and physics. If you’re expecting to read a Twilight-space opera, where nothing happens and everyone survives, you will be disappointed, in a good way. Although not quite on Game of Thrones level, the events and the consequence of those events are realistic. You can’t have two mega-corporations go to war, and no one dies. Kady and Ezra lose friends and loved ones, witness deplorable acts, and suffer through PTSD. It’s hyper-realistic, which is why I loved it.

My favourite character, after our protagonists, would have to be the artificial intelligence system AIDAN (can you even call an AI a character?). Sci-fi consists of a thousand different versions of AI, but I don’t believe I’ve ever encountered one as complex as AIDAN, who feels almost as much as a human does. AIDAN goes to great lengths to protect the fleet, even if it doesn’t seem like it is.

This book had me on the edge of my seat. Despite being 599 pages long, I demolished it in two days. The design team over at Knopf Books deserve an award or something for what they created here. The battle scenes and the moments in AIDAN’S data core were pure art. Everything was incredibly detailed, from the subheadings on each page, down to the tabbed info provided by Illuminae.

Oh, Illuminae. That final private message scene at the very end of the novel, I did not see coming. Be prepared for a twist. An awesome one.

I cannot wait for the next book in this series. Illuminae just came out a few months ago, so undoubtedly there is still a long way to go for Illuminae #2.



4 stars

Buy the book here.

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