I was in a horrendous reading slump before I finally read Illuminae by Jay Kristoff and Amie Kaufman and let me tell you what an amazing life decision that was. I read the book in a day, completely riveted, and I can not recommend it highly enough. Now, onto the summary and my somewhat nitty-gritty thoughts and impressions, though absolutely WITHOUT SPOILERS because you simply must read this book if you have not done so already.
On the day that Kady and Ezra break up, their home planet is under attack and they must flee in the few spaceships that were able to escape their planet. But having escaped the planet doesn’t mean that they’re safe as their tiny fleet of refugees is chased by the attackers and sinister forces within their own fleet threaten to destroy them all. Illuminae is presented in a multi-media fashion, with transcripts of interviews, chat rooms, video transcriptions, and diagrams fully immersing you in the technological future of the world.
I loved the characters of Kady and Ezra and the way their relationship developed throughout the book. They may have broken up at the very beginning of the book, but that doesn’t mean that they were completely finished interacting with one another. The conversations between various characters, not just our two protagonists, had many funny moments in the midst of the action packed plot and did not fail to put a smile on my face despite the tragedies happening elsewhere in the book.
Though I am usually not a fan of books where the children save the world, the protagonists’ teen status did not make their contributions to the plot at all contrived. They were thrust into very adult situations as they try to help save the lives of their refugee fleet, and the way they rose to the challenge felt very organic and not at all as though the authors were trying to force the teenage protagonists to save the world because they were writing a YA novel.
Now the plot. THE PLOT. I can’t say much beyond my brief summary above, but I will say that it was amazing and I absolutely love it. The pace was remarkable and I literally could not put the book down, I was so riveted. I loved the elements of horror and mystery that blended so seamlessly with the science fiction, making the reading that much more exciting. The twists and turns left me very emotional and were so well crafted that even thinking about them now sort of leaves me a hollow wreck. It is truly a masterpiece and I’m usually not so free with such praise.
The format of the book was unique to me (I’m aware that there are other novels featuring similar mixed-media styles, but this was the first all mixed-media novel that I have read) and not only did a marvelous job of delivering the story, but it lent itself perfectly to the immersion into the world. I loved the spaceships and how well we got to know them thanks to the diagrams, and the various video footage transcriptions really put me there. I felt as if I was walking down those metal hallways myself.
In retrospect, the book has some Battlestar Gallactica vibes, but really that feels like an unfair comparison since their tones are so different. The only similarity is the premise: a refugee fleet fleeing a pursuing attacker, facing problems from without and within.
Overall, Illuminae is one of the best books I have ever read and I instantly ordered the sequel. Five out of five stars for this one, for sure.