I don’t know why it’s taken me this long to review what’s easily been one of my favorite science fiction novels, but I never claimed to be good at blogging.
Illuminae… where do I start? Illuminae surprised me in ways I haven’t been with YA in a long time. When I say that I pulled an all-nighter to finish this book, I honestly mean it. I devoured each and every inky page, sometimes furiously, others with my heart ready to straight up vacate my chest in the span of a night. This was a high-octane, emotional novel and it’s been more than a month since I read it and I’m still not over it.
Let’s talk about this masterpiece by Jay Kristoff and Amie Kauffman.
Across the Stars: A Run-Down on Illuminae
Illuminae follows Kady and Ezra, a pair of post-break-up teens forced into a corporate conflict in the middle of uninhabited space when their mining colony Kerenza is attacked by the company Bi-Tech. Put aboard the Hypatia and the Alexander along with the ship Copernicus, Kady and Ezra find there’s more to worry about than the pursuing ship Lincoln when a deadly virus threatens one of the ships and the other is taken over by a rouge AI bent on protecting the fleet–at any cost. Even if that means wiping out a portion of the fleet to keep the rest of them safe.
If that makes you feel like Illuminae is an action-packed heart-stopper, you’d be one hundred percent right. I loved nearly everything about it, from Kady and Ezra, to the intricate but non-convoluted plot, and a story style that was as thrilling as it was fresh. It felt less like reading a standard novel and more like this was a compilation of real-life events–the fact that the style involves the book being formatted like a file full of transcribed audio and video recordings, instant messages, and even really stellar cross-sections of the ships that Kady, Ezra, and other characters are on, only helps push the immersion and realism of Illuminae that much further.
While reading, I never felt like stopping. I didn’t feel like taking a break to catch my breath. This was a book, that through action and character, sank itself into me and refused to leave until I was done with it, and even then, I’m still thinking about it. All the twists from the reveal about Kady’s mother, to AIDAN’s had me turning page after page wanting to see and know what happened next. The best thing about that? It never felt like the twists and jabs to the heart were thrown in there frivolously. Nothing about Illuminae’s excitement felt cheap, and care with which plot and character arcs were handled tied all this up together perfectly.
Have I mentioned that I really, really loved this book?
The one thing that I kind of side-eyed and I use the term side-eye very conservatively, was a particular ending twist that I won’t spoil for anyone that hasn’t read Illumine, but it culminated to a retcon that had me a little… annoyed. I don’t like retconning unless it’s done very well, and I was and still am on the fence about one of the endgame plot twists but overall I don’t think it’s a detriment to the book. (To be honest, I think my preference for that good ol’ angst is being vocal, but Jay and Amie still managed to work that in there for me, so I think I can give it a pass.)
Cosmic Wonders: Kady and Ezra
What really sold me on Illuminae if not the impeccable plot and unique, realistic story telling, were the main characters Kady and Ezra.
Kady and Ezra were refreshing. I think a lot of authors who write teen characters try to make them interesting by writing them like adults–or doing them the disservice of overly dumbing them down, because of course teenagers can’t be well-rounded and unique individuals. Jay and Amie did Kady and Ezra (and teen readers) a serious service in highlighting how witty, intelligent, and yes, emotional and flawed teenagers truly are by allowing them to be and react how teens in their circumstances would. I thought Kady was remarkably entertaining and intelligent, and that Ezra’s wit and vulnerability, especially surrounding the relationships that shape him in Illuminae, easily made them a pair of the best-written characters I’ve come across to date. That’s not even taking into consideration their chemistry. The way that they played off each other, their I-definitely-don’t-like-you-but-kinda-do moments, and the slow burn that took us from freshly broken up, to mended friendship, to the endgame that made my heart seize up.
In particular with these two, I really appreciated how their characters ignore a lot of the stereotypes that end up getting lobbed onto the heads of teen characters. Kady was allowed to be an intelligent female character whose intelligence didn’t dwarf or totally negate the fact that she was a teen girl who had boy issues and the ups and downs of teen emotions and (while perhaps well-intentioned) rash decision making occasionally. Similarly, Ezra was a teen boy with baggage, but he had heart, wit, and a vulnerability that I sometimes think is overlooked when it comes to male characters in YA. He was very much emotionally invested in the people around him, and it was nice seeing a young male character that was actually actively validated for that, especially in a science fiction novel where said male character is a conscript into a military setting–vulnerability isn’t always rewarded in such a setting.
This… this just did a lot of good when it came to its main characters. I want to see more Kadys and Ezras in the YA world.
If it wasn’t obvious, this was easily a five star read for me. I loved the science, the characters, the setting. I loved the stakes, I loved the fact that I went through the entire spectrum of emotion in reading this book. I loved the collection of antagonists. I loved the twist at the end. For me, this was a very innovative book that leaves me wanting to read
I loved this book, okay? And if you haven’t read it, I highly recommend that you do.
This book is for you if you: love immersive worlds, rich and realistic protagonists, are a sci fi fan of any age, enjoyed Mass Effect or Dead Space, or want your heart shredded into a million itty bitty pieces before having it super glued back together.