Illuminae – book review

Illuminae

Illuminae is an intriguing and one-of-a-kind novel, written by Amie Kaufman and Jay Kristoff.

This morning, Kady thought breaking up with Ezra was the hardest thing she’d have to do. Then 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, the fleet’s AI has turned frighteningly psychopathic, and no body will say what’s really going on. As Kady hacks into the 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…

*

This is probably one of the most talked about books in recent times. I had heard so much about Illuminae before I even started reading it – and I was even lucky enough to receive a signed Illuminae poster from Allen & Unwin! But sometimes, I feel like hearing too much about a book before reading it isn’t a good thing. Although, admittedly, this book is amazing, I don’t think any book should be built up so high that if people don’t experience the same evangelical zeal as you do when reading it, they should be shunned. Instead, people need to be able to read a book at their own pace, have time to ponder on it and collect their thoughts, and then share their thoughts in a calm and collected manner. I’m guilty of sometimes screaming at you through reviews, raving on and on about how good a book is – and I apologise about that. But that doesn’t mean I’m going to stop anytime soon. I’m selfish, I know. Like every book, Illuminae was both brilliant and of course, like all things, flawed. It was a very enjoyable read but if you are going to read Illuminae, I recommend not putting it on a pedestal before reading it. Enjoy it at your own pace and decide from there how you’d rate it.

One thing that I was very surprised about when reading this book was its general layout. May I be so bold to proclaim that there is no traditional prose in this novel? Yes, there are some moments where there is a retelling, or ‘surveillance account’ about what happened, but there was nothing like you’d find when opening up your average YA book. I definitely think that’s worth knowing before picking up this book. A lot of this novel is told mostly in the form of instant messages, emails and other documents. I loved how unique this book was in that aspect. The format of Illuminae is honestly the new free verse poetry novel. We all thought books like Rumble by Ellen Hopkins and One by Sarah Crossan were awesome because of the way they’re written, but now Illuminae is going to rule the world. I can already tell there will be come ‘copy-cat’ books coming soon.

Another thing I loved about this book was the awesome graphics and how the words aren’t always just in perfect lines on the page. That must sound super weird, but let me try to explain. Sometimes the words reflect what’s going on. If someone is floating through space, the words will curve around the page, white letters against a black page. Sometimes there’s almost an illustration, made entirely of a word in different shades of black. Sometimes there’s even diagrams of starships. This book is completely insane – I love it! I can’t believe the publishers let them have pages of black ink. Sometimes there was only one word typed in white on the page. No wonder this book smells funny. Do you think it’s all the extra ink? Anyway, I know if I was printing that book from home, that would cost me a lot of money in ink. I’m sure publishers get discounts, though. And imagine having to type all that out to make sure everything was sitting perfectly on the page! I would not have the patience for that. Kudos to you, Allen & Unwin!

However, there was as aspect about the writing style in this novel that I didn’t like, or rather, found confusing. I found it a little hard to get into initially and I would have really appreciated some more background information. It took me quite a while to actually understand what was going on and to form a close bond with some of the characters. Because I knew nothing about the protagonists or the planet, I couldn’t feel for them and I honestly didn’t care about what was going on. Sometimes reading all those emails and ‘Unipedia’ pages were a bit tedious after a while. I found myself wanting to skim them to get back to Kady and Ezra. To be honest, I don’t think I would have missed much if I hadn’t read them. Oh, and side note, this book does a lot of blacking out of swear words. Like, all the time. This also got a bit annoying after a while, but it didn’t really disjoint my reading of this book because supplementing swear words for the black boxes was quite easy for me. Just a heads up to brush up on your swear words! You might want to swear at this book after a while as well…

Honestly, I can’t say I knew the characters all that well. I enjoyed the messages shared between Kady and Ezra, but I never felt like I knew them completely. They were enjoyable enough to read about, I suppose, but nothing about them really stood out. It’s disappointing to say that I only felt emotional twice when reading this book. Normally when I read, I experience everything from laughing to cringing for the characters and slamming my book down, and even crying so much for so long that the ink gets slightly smudged and my fingertips get wet from wiping my tears and then my book starts crinkling like it does when it gets damp and then I literally have to take a break before my book becomes irreparably waterlogged. Unfortunately, I didn’t experience much of that in this book. I think the most dramatic feeling I had when reading this book was shock. And there was a very shocking moment in this book, I have to tell you. I could not believe it. I still don’t trust authors after that. Can I ever forgive the wonderful authors of Illuminae for toying with my emotions? Maybe if they write another book together I’ll forgive them… As long as it’s not a sequel to Illuminae. I did love Illuminae, just not enough to read a sequel to it. I’m sorry.

All in all, I think I may have expected too much from this book. If you’re considering reading this, please don’t presume this book will be the best book you’ve ever read. You’re allowed to read it and love it, or read it and hate it. Personally, I liked quite a lot of this book while I also disliked other aspects. Message of the day: don’t get pressured into liking things, peoples! I’d recommend reading this book if you’re a fan of books set on other planets and are looking for something unique to read. Just keep in mind that the pacing isn’t very fast and you might have trouble connecting with the characters initially. Overall, I found reading Illuminae fairly enjoyable and I’d give it a score of 7 out of 10. I’d love to hear your thoughts! Have you read Illuminae yet? Are you planning to? Do you agree or disagree with what I discussed? Let me know!

11 thoughts on “Illuminae – book review

    • I think that if the premise intrigues you, then you should be able to get into the story eventually. It’s just a matter of time – I didn’t feel fully immersed until around 200 pages. But then again, I didn’t really read the blurb before starting this book. I realised about 50 pages in that perhaps rereading the blurb would help give me a sense of what is happening. I strongly recommend reading the blurb before beginning this book, and hopefully you’ll get into the story quicker 🙂 I hope you enjoy it!

  1. I keep hearing so much about this book. Thanks for your honest review — it leaves me on the fence about whether I actually want to read it. I’m trying to avoid books with sequels right now. Does this book feel complete if you don’t plan to continue?

    • I definitely understand what you mean. Honestly, I didn’t know that this book had a sequel until I went onto Goodreads afterwords. That would probably explain the ’01’ number on the front cover… Yeah, I totally missed that! This book definitely doesn’t leave you on a cliffhanger or anything, otherwise I’d feel compelled to read the next book. I suppose it’s just a matter of whether you want to spend more time with the characters or not. To me, I’m quite happy just reading this book as if it’s a standalone. I hope that helps you decide 🙂

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