Rating: XXXXX (If there was a higher rating this book would have it!)
Published: October 22nd 2015 by Rock the Boat
“If I breathed I would sigh. I would scream. I would cry.”
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.
Wow. Just. Wow. Those three words were the original review I left on Goodreads after finishing this book at some ungodly hour in the morning and being unable to sleep but trying to resist reading the next book straight away. I’ve been interested but kept putting off reading this book. I would see it or Gemina in a book store and pick it up almost every time but was put off by the format and left without it. Then recently with the launch of Obsido I kept seeing this series appearing everywhere again and my interest was again piqued! One of my bookish friends on the other side of the world was a big fan I realised and when I asked her about it she couldn’t recommend it more and she hasn’t steered me wrong yet so I decided to take another look at it. By this point I had read “The loneliest girl in the Universe” by Lauren James which is largely in the format of emails sent across deep space between two people and is one of my favourite books. I figured if I liked that so much and enjoyed the email format maybe Illuminae will be just as good?
Good news. It totally is. Illuminae is a wild ride and one I have absolutely loved. 599 pages seemed like a long old book but the format makes it such a fast paced read that eventually you’re eating up pages faster than you can count. Turns out I absolutely LOVE the format after all. Not only is it super easy to read once you’re used to it but you get so much extra little bits from it. I was worried it wouldn’t seem very immersive but for me that’s totally not been the case at all, if anything I’ve found it MORE so which I certainly wasn’t expecting. There’s a particular moment where a list of casualties are listed and although you’re not expected to necessarily read every single name the pages are not wasted because there are just enough pages for you to think, “wow, that’s so many…” and if that doesn’t get you there are hundreds of smiling pictures of all kinds of smiling faces, babies, children, families compiled into a few pages and again there is such a weight there from the sheer number and then seeing these faces. It might just be me but that felt like such a powerful moment compiled from something so simple. Then there are ship schematics (always give me ship schematics please), after action reports with lines and sections with lines through but are still readable, therefore given us an extra dimension to that part, what we’re meant to see and what we’re not both feel just as important. I admit I read some of those reports a couple of times to see how different they felt.
The story itself feels like a beautiful blending of classic sci-fi tropes but it doesn’t feel stale or overused. It wasn’t until I tried describing the story to someone I realised that it sounded like I was describing a mishmash of some of my favourite sci-fi films but it works so damn well and feels fresh, surprising, horrifying and shocking all the same. Every twist feels like you’ve been punched in the gut and I honestly have no idea how I made it through this book without having any nightmares. There was however, plenty of gasping, crying, a couple of gags and still a lot of laughs. This story really does have it all but I have so much trouble explaining it because although it sounds pretty good there are no words I can truly find to do this book justice (I’m going to try for a couple more paragraphs though be warned).
The writing is quick, witty and absolutely phenomenal, able to tell a story and give us facts while still being able to use some amazing descriptions that are still relevant in the format. “…It’s like a beautiful painting of a totally empty room” is one that really struck me. There are some on purpose typos when a character is trying to communicate at speed in an urgent moment and I’m sure I missed loads but the ones I noticed fit so well and just gave it an extra dimension. There are countdowns and statistics throughout that help illustrate the passage of time and give an impending sense of doom that is almost palpable and quite often I felt like I physically could not put this book down for fear of missing something, how could I go and do normal things when there was a countdown going on in my book?! I had to have my husband take away and hide this book so I could sleep at one point (I am the worst kind of adult) which is something that hasn’t happened in years (Catching Fire was the last time I believe).
The book starts with two transcripts that overlap, this is where we meet our ‘main characters’ Kady and Ezra. Swapping back and forth between one event told by two people separately this starting transcript of their interviews totally sold me even more because it is done so very well, switching accounts at the perfect time so we get all the details we need without any repetition. Also it contains the line “I’m frequently underestimated. I think it’s because I’m short.” By the time the interviews are done I felt like I had a really good picture and understanding of both characters and was already eager to know more. A great start. We go on to get entries from Kady’s personal journal, conversations between Ezra and his friends, audio transcripts from the commanding officers of the ships where we spend our story and much much more building a rich world and giving us more insights into these characters and those around them almost effortlessly. I cried about numerous non main characters and a character I couldn’t see me having any attachment to whatsoever at the beginning became one of my absolute favourite characters. That feels like great character development to me.
It is YA and there is romance but (and I know you’re possibly getting pretty sick of me gushing by this point, I know) the romance in this felt perfect. It wasn’t shoved in your face too much, there are no silly love triangles or alpha males and swooning females. It felt very realistic and totally believable. I’ve been getting sick of the same romance put into every story I’ve read lately which is a shame because I like a little romance. Illuminae however just really hit the spot by managing to be funny, flirty, sweet, beautiful, tragic and just a hint of sweet, sweet angst.
I could honestly go on and on about this book, when I finished it genuinely felt like I’d just watched this amazing film and I wanted to go see it again and again and again. I’m mortified that it has taken me so long to read such a great book but I think maybe it would have made all other books I read since feel inferior so maybe it was for the best. It has rekindled my love of sci-fi books and I’m probably going to binge watch some of my favourite sci-fi movies and shows in between reading the next two books in the series. I cannot recommend this book anywhere near enough. Now if you’ll excuse me I’m about half way through the sequel and losing my mind, speak soon.