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Illuminae

Review

Illuminae

Kady Grant lives on a speck of an ice planet jump stations away from Earth. Like most teenagers stuck in her situation, she's desperate to get away and explore the 'verse and put her genius-level computer (hacking) skills to use. Her boyfriend, Ezra Mason, is not. And on a very regular school morning, Kady breaks up with him. By the afternoon, spaceships are attacking their settlement. By that night, hundreds are dead, she is on a different spacecraft from Ezra and her mom and a dreadnought from the very terrifying and intimidating BeiTech is trailing behind. When an AI takes matters into its non-corporal hands and a virus begins to run rampant between the remaining colony's ships, Kady must make up with her ex-boyfriend, the boy she swore she’d never talk to again, to bring everything to light.

In ILLUMINAE by Amie Kaufman and Jay Kristoff, an AI playing God asks, "Am I not merciful?" and by the end, it's not hard for readers to wonder if the authors are asking the questions themselves. The answer, in short, is a resounding no. This book is not merciful in the best of ways. It shatters expectations, shreds your feelings and leaves you feeling as breathless as if you were stuck without oxygen in a breached deck on a spacecraft. 

After finishing ILLUMINAE, I spent a good while clutching the tome to my chest, unable to digest what I'd just read. From start to finish, this book shoves you headlong into the action, not allowing you to get acclimated to the pace of the book or the high stakes. Told from varying points of view (including that of an insane AI system named AIDAN), the book's narrative is a combination of messages, ship wide communications, surveillance summaries, journal entries, memorandums --- pretty much everything except linear prose. It's brilliant. At first, it can be a bit hard to orient yourself, but as I mentioned earlier, you don't have time to get acclimated and that's okay. You get used to it. 

That's why I recommend trying to read as many pages in a chunk as possible. And I seriously think you can finish this book in an afternoon --- I know many friends with advanced copies have stayed up late into the night to finish it. It demands your attention and you'll find it impossible to put it down. 

This book is not merciful in the best of ways. It shatters expectations, shreds your feelings and leaves you feeling as breathless as if you were stuck without oxygen in a breached deck on a spacecraft. 
 

The book's many conflicts provide intersecting twists and turns that will have your stomach in just as many knots. By page 600, you'll care for these characters as if you had spent years with them. Kady and Ezra are interesting, endearing protagonists, the perfect vessels to tell this story. And the host of secondary characters that we're treated to (James McNulty, Byron) are just as incredibly drawn. Because of the fast pace, we're treated to snippets of character introspection. Not a lot of telling going on here, friends. And that's okay. We don't need to be told anything because it all unfolds brilliantly through the multiple narratives --- messages, surveillance summary, the AI's records. And through each character's actions, we're treated to such a complete history of their character it's as if we were provided with extensive dossiers beforehand.  I dare you not to struggle with coming up with who your favorite character is.

Also, I am utterly stunned by the world-building and how everything is supported by research! Lots of it, from the looks of the documents that make up the book (and acknowledgment page). Through every page of medical documents, message transcripts and classified army documents, the world unfolds around you and leaves you completely entrenched. It's very hard to pull yourself out of ILLUMINAE once you've started. You're gripped from the opening interview and hooked until you get to the acknowledgements page. This book is a tour de force and hopefully not one of its kind. I'll need to read thousands of more books like this, especially from these authors, and I am so glad that this is a series. My only question is, why I can't have book 2 now?

You will not be disappointed by ILLUMINAE, by the magic Kaufman and Kristoff are able to create and the way your heart will clench and break 100 throughout the book. Bring tissues, chocolate and noise canceling headphones. You're going to want to buckle down for this one and you probably won't be able to take a breath until you're done. But it will all be totally worth it. 

The authors credit the IRS for introducing them to each other --- both Australian authors, they had to fill out separate tax forms than if they were in the U.S. --- and by the end of ILLUMINAE, you might be calling the IRS to thank them, too. The collaboration here is seamless; I truly cannot tell where Kaufman ends and Kristoff begins, and that's perfect. 

So go forth and pick up ILLUMINAE. It will probably be the best decision you make for a long while. 

Reviewed by Brianna Robinson on October 20, 2015

Illuminae
by Amie Kaufman and Jay Kristoff

  • Publication Date: October 20, 2015
  • Genres: Dystopian, Science Fiction, Youth Fiction
  • Hardcover: 608 pages
  • Publisher: Knopf Books for Young Readers
  • ISBN-10: 0553499114
  • ISBN-13: 9780553499117