ARC Review: ILLUMINAE by Amie Kaufman and Jay Kristoff

Note: Due to the nature of this communication, certain words and spoilers have been redacted. Some details and opinions have been censored but remain in the text and appear with a strikethrough.

INCEPT: 09/23/2015
LOCATION: ██████, ██, USA, Terra
OFFICER IDENT: Nikki ██████
RANK: Major Book Pusher


At 22:30 (Pacific Daylight Time) on 07/09/2015, I started reading Illuminae. I had no idea what I’d gotten myself into. Photo and pertinent specs follow:

ARC Review: ILLUMINAE by Amie Kaufman and Jay Kristoff
The Illuminae Files #1

Written by: Amie Kaufman, Jay Kristoff
Published by: Knopf
Release date: October 20th 2015
Genres: Sci-Fi, Young Adult
Pages: 608
Source: BookExpo America 2015
Buy: B&N, Amazon, Book Depository
Add on: Goodreads

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.

How do I even begin to talk about this book? First of all, this thing is huge. You’ve all seen it. It’s pretty ███ing intense. But then you open it up… and from page one, it’s clear that this is no ordinary book. It’s one thing to read the synopsis, and then hear about the format via word-of-mouth, and even to see some teaser photos as they pop up online, but I cannot stress enough, this book is like nothing you’ve read before.

…Which is something I’m sure you’ve heard before. There is a LOT of buzz surrounding this title. But hype can be a double-edged sword. It’s overwhelming, and expectations skyrocket. Can those expectations possibly be met? Or will they be shot down in flames like the ████████ after █████ went ████?

Well, I’m incredibly pleased to report: The hype over Illuminae is completely justified. I now understand why they had 50 bajillion copies of this ARC at BEA and ALA and basically everywhere. BECAUSE IT’S ███ING WORTH IT.

Reading Illuminae is an experience.

This book isn’t something you sit down and read — it’s something you hear and see and feel and live through. It’s something that makes you forget what time it is, when you ate your last meal, the fact that you were supposed to be asleep — oh, crap, three hours ago, and you have a meeting first thing in the morning! Whoops…

But in all seriousness — rather than bogging a reader down with gimmicky, “cool” formatting, the dossier-style storytelling in Illuminae enhances the reading experience. The format makes the characters and plot hit home in completely unique ways. What would normally be just a few words in a traditionally-written book (“Lots of people died”? No, you get an entire casualty list) takes pages and pages and hundreds of photos. Instead of the scale of a ship being described, there are schematics of these incomprehensibly-massive space vessels. There’s a running death toll aboard the ███████, a countdown to the failure of ███ █████, and an updated percentage of personnel infected by the ████ ████. There are emails, hacked documents, instant messages, medical reports, journal entries, transcriptions of surveillance videos and interviews… There are sterile computer documents, and gorgeously-designed, two-page-spread, pieces of art (there’s no other word for it)… and so much more.

It may sound daunting — and it’s true, this book is not playing around — but everything about it feels natural and authentic for this kind of story. It’s formatted this way for a reason, and that formatting makes it one of the most can’t-stop-won’t-stop books I’ve ever read.

But enough about the format.

Is the story worth it? What about the plot and the characters?

I can say with absolute certainty that, had the plot and characters not been on point, the format would have been useless to save it. That’s not to say that the design of these myriad documents and tableaus doesn’t stand on its own as amazing — rather, all of this book’s elements are so closely connected that if the characters didn’t work, if the plot didn’t lend itself to this kind of storytelling, the whole thing would have fallen apart. Instead, everything works together to create an immersive experience that is unlike anything I’d read before.

Kady and Ezra are our main characters. They’re refugees from an illegal mining colony, Kerenza, who have escaped after it was destroyed. Kady is a hacker, and is not content to sit around and do nothing when she realizes that the facts of their situation are being kept hidden. She’s super sarcastic, and does not work well with others. Ezra, her (ex) boyfriend, isn’t quite as gung-ho as Kady re: hacking into top-secret files, but he’s just as much of a firecracker as Kady in his own way — his messages to Kady after their break-up are an absolute joy to behold. 😂

Now let’s talk about the ship(s)…

Kady and Ezra end up on separate ships after escaping their home — one on the Hypatia, a small (ish) scientific-exploration vessel, the other on the Alexander, a huge military battlecarrier. (Wait, you thought I meant a different kind of ship? I’m getting to that…) The Alexander, being a military ship, is equipped with all the bells and whistles you’d expect — really big guns, a bajillion nuclear missiles, a squadron of small fighter-ships… you name it. It’s also got AIDAN — an Artificial Intelligence tasked with protecting itself and its fleet (the Hypatia and Copernicus). But unfortunately for the fleet (understatement of the century), AIDEN was damaged in the battle to escape Kerenza, and he’s gone a little bit… over-protective. Add to that the fact that they’re being pursued by one of █████’s surviving warships, and a █████ ████ has broken out on one of the escaping Kerenza ships… Things get out of hand pretty fast.

Now back to the other kind of ship. 😉 Kady and Ezra have an awesome relationship. One of my favorite things about the book was how their relationship progressed as the stakes got higher and higher (and higher and higher). It’s seriously mind-blowing how Kaufman and Kristoff were able to make their relationship feel so tangible and real, given the format of this book and the characters’ circumstances. They’re on separate ships (they don’t even ███ ███ ██ until the ███ing ███ is ███!!!!), and they can really only interact in short instant-message conversations and emails. And yet you get to know them so welland I ended up shipping them so ███ing hard.

But there’s more to it than just Kady and Ezra…

There’s also AIDAN, the AI who is supposed to be protecting its fleet of ships escaping Kerenza. AIDEN is SUCH a cool character — and it(?) is that, a character in its/her/his own right. I don’t want to say much about AIDAN, because spoilers, but AHHHHH. Just. Omg. AIDAN. I have a lot of feelings about AIDAN.

But not only are Kady and Ezra and AIDAN great — but also, because of the book’s format, you get glimpses of so many other people who are part of this story. Illuminae does what is so hard to do in traditional books, because of the narrative structure and focus — it makes the presence of thousands of other lives, beyond the main characters, felt throughout the book, in so many little ways. That aspect was incredibly well done.


In conclusion…

“First, survive. Then tell the truth.”

Well, I survived Illuminae, barely, and the truth is, it is just as good as everyone is making it out to be. And I do not say that lightly. The characters, the plot, the emotion, the pacing… everything is so on point, it’s insane. It might take a bit of getting used to, with the formatting and all, but once you get into it, Illuminae will make you laugh, it will make you cry, and it will literally make your heart pound as you’re reading it. 

There are only a few books that I’d recommend to literally everyone — but this is one of them. It has so much — so much heart, so much depth, so much excitement, so much plot, so much beauty, so much feeling

I loved it. You’ll love it. Go preorder it. You’re welcome.

15 thoughts on “ARC Review: ILLUMINAE by Amie Kaufman and Jay Kristoff

  1. This is the most amazing review ever for Illuminae!! Damn Nikki, so much work into this review and it reflectes perfectly why this is the most freaking amazing book!! *standing ovation for both the book, Amie and Jay and Nikki for such a brilliant review*

  2. I cannot wait to get my hands on this book. Ever since I found out about the unconventional format of the narrative I’ve been eager to read it. Everything about this book looks so unique and refreshing. Your review is absolutely amazing and it’s just upping my excitement level.

  3. Looks like this is another one where I’ll want the physical copy in my hands as I read it. I was sort of put off by all the talk about the revolutionary format, which I wasn’t sure was going to enhance the storytelling at all, but you’ve changed my mind!

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  6. Yas to this review! I freaking loved illuminate! It was a big chunk of a book but it was all about the experience. I loved the design and formatting and style, the different fonts and text messages, the romance, the AI, the intergalactic war- yep, I barely survived as well. Can’t wait for the second installation!

  7. Pingback: Amie Kaufman & Jay Kristoff – Illuminae – SFF Book Reviews

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