Review: Illuminae

Illuminae (The Illuminae Files #1) by Amie Kaufman and Jay Kristoff
Published by Allen & Unwin on the 1st November 2015
Pages: 602
Format: Paperback
Source: Purchased
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One moment, Kady Grant and Ezra Mason have nothing bigger to worry about than each other. Specifically, avoiding each other in the wake of their messy break-up. In the next second, their entire world falls apart.The year is 2375 and one of the mega-corporations that control much of deep space has just fired the opening salvo in an intergalactic war, destroying Kady and Ezra’s planet. Forced to flee on a small fleet of crippled rescue ships alongside thousands of other refugees, the fear of enemy warships chasing them down is at first all-consuming but soon becomes the least of their worries. A deadly plague is ravaging the refugees on the ships; the fleet’s AI, which should be protecting them, may actually be an enemy; and High Command is refusing to acknowledge that there may be a serious problem. As Kady plunges into a tangled web of data in search of the truth, she realises that Ezra is possibly the only person who can help her save the refugees before it’s too late.

I like my books to come with structure, and this book doesn’t really have that. When I first started reading, I was kind of thrown by its lack of structure and change in perspectives, with the occasional graphic thrown in. Don’t get me wrong: it is a spectacular book and a very cool idea: it will probably sell quite well because it’s innovative and original and if I were handing out stars based on ideas alone, this book would get all five, no questions asked. I’ve seen people refer to it as a ‘romantic space opera,’ and I agree with that.

However, this was – once again – a romance novel masquerading as something else. Most of the interview transcripts, emails, and instant messages in the book revolved around the two leads either telling the other they were in love, or talking about their love for the other lead to one of the sidekicks. Trying to figure out what went wrong with AIDAN, the artificial intelligence that helps run the spaceship, seemed to be a minor inconvenience in their tale of woe. Chatspeak was used, but the characters would use ‘u’ and ‘you’ in the space of about six words, which annoyed me more than it should, and the military reports seemed jokey and fake – if you’re going to write in a certain style, please commit to the format.

Finally – and this is only a minor criticism – but I had assumed that with two Australian authors we would finally (!) but getting some kind of non-contemporary YA novel set in Australia (or some version of Australia on another planet in a galaxy far, far away), but alas. With all the Americanisms (“mom” being the most noticeable one), it was seemed to be set in some futuristic replica of America, which I found a little disappointing. Okay, yes, small, tiny, ridiculous complaint in the grand scheme of things, but if we go by YA standards, the US has a lot of bad luck while the rest of the world gets off seemingly scot-free. It would’ve been nice to have a bit of a change.

What did I like about this book? You can tell how much love and work went into the making of this book. It is detailed beyond all belief. Kaufman and Kristoff aren’t afraid to try things stylistically speaking, and I have a whole new level of respect for them as authors.  But the book’s selling point is also its downfall: it is perhaps too epic.

Also, Kaufman and Kristoff aren’t afraid to get violent. It’s basically a super-gorey, non-musical, science fiction version of Into the Woods, in that you’re made to care about a character, and then they die. It’s like Wash commenting that he is a leaf on the wind in Serenity. It’s like the time Amber Benson was finally added to the opening credits of Buffy the Vampire Slayer. Your heart will be ripped out unapologetically. You’ve been warned.


Please note: this review originally appeared on my blog, What Kim Read Next. It has been reformatted and edited.

3 Replies to “Review: Illuminae”

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