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 review is early. Super early. And I don’t care. Illuminae is freaking amazing and I want to talk about it now because it is that awesome.
Described by Kristoff as “Scifi Horror Romance,” Illuminae is told in a kind of modern-epistolary form. Eschewing traditional narration for everything except transcriptions of videos that we as readers cannot watch, Illuminae is probably one of the most unique books I’ve ever read – young adult or otherwise. It’s also ridiculously entertaining.
Illuminae is ultimately a story of survival and the fight to live against almost impossible odds, from the cover-ups by high command, to bioenginereed disease that renders people insane through fear, to the slow and steady chase by an enemy ship whose constant progress means that the question is when they get caught, not if. There is this delicious tension that runs throughout the book as the reader watches the world slowly crumble around Kady. There are dueling sympathies as you hate command for some of the lies they tell and some of the choices they make, but yet as much as it hurts to watch those decisions being made, it’s very much in the vein of “the needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few.” They’re trying to make the best decisions they can for the moment they are in. And the options are usually in the range from bad to worse. There are no easy outs here and death is an ever lurking presence that can’t be ignored. And of course, there is AIDAN, the AI whose behavior is irrational at best, and yet even with him you can see the twisted logic behind it.
There are two great strengths here: the characters and the style.
Kady is the girl that we should all be so lucky to be: she’s smart, she’s skilled and she’s courageous as all get out. She’s a poster child for both girls in STEM (hack, girl, hack) and just kick ass heroines. She willingly put herself on a suicide mission to do what she thought right. And at the end, she arguably has changed. She is harder. She does have a thirst for revenge and it all feels so damn right. I have mad respect for her in a way I simply don’t for most YA protagonists. And then, the conversations she has with Ezra and that Ezra has with his friends provide some much needed levity, and the romance is genuinely sweet and not heavy handed at all. It’s really well balanced. Also, mad props to the authors for having the guys sound like guys. Their conversations aren’t sanitized for our protection, and yet they aren’t overdone either. I suppose while I’m on the topic, I will say I find this book is probably for the 15-16+ crowd. The action gets pretty heavy, there is on-page death, there is on page-violence and swearing (albeit redacted) abounds. It’s never overdone or exploitative (it’s really on par with what you might find in adult books) but it may be just a bit heavy for those on the younger end of the YA scale, so just putting that out there.
The other thing that makes it work is the commitment to the style of the book. Just recently I criticized another book for being style, without substance. An occasional trill of words running diagonally down a page or random bolding or whatnot. On the other hand, Illuminae is committed. There is everything here, from renders of the crafts there on, to word art, to poetry turned art (my favorite being AIDAN’s musings written such that it looks like ships flying in formation and when Kady is doing a space walk and the words bounce like her steps). It’s clearly well-thought out and beautifully done.
Overall, Illuminae hits all the sweet spots for me and does what I’ve been craving in YA: tell an original story in an original way. The biggest compliment I can give the book is this: I see this being the book that makes a person a sci-fi fan. I see someone picking this up for the hype of it all and just completely falling in love. It’s that good 🙂
So yes. The wait til October will be long and painful and for that I apologize, but go. Preorder now. You can thank me once you’ve devoured the book.
Verdict: Buy It (This will be on my Top 10 this year, just saying)
Available: October 20th