Illuminae (The Illuminae Files #1) by Amie Kaufman and Jay Kristoff #RRSciFiMonth

illuminaeIlluminae is one of those books that I’ve been wanting to read for quite a while.  It was recommended to me by a few reliable bloggers so it was definitely on the shelf and yet I was reluctant to get to it.  Sci Fi isn’t my first love, I admit, that and coupled with a book aimed more at a YA audience and the possibility that the story focuses quite heavily on romance well I needed a little push and SciFi Month 2016 provided that gentle nudge.

Firstly, to the story.  This is definitely a book review that I don’t want to give too much away in.  There are plenty of twists and turns to this story and future readers don’t need me to spoil the surprises along the way.  I noticed that Kristoff himself gave an excellent synopsis over on Goodreads which basically summaries the story as:  girl meets boy, girl loses boy, girl loses planet and family.  Girl ends up on a damaged spaceship – with a faster space ship in hot pursuit.  On top of this we have a zombie style outbreak taking place on board one of the ships and an AI computer gone insane.

Basically as the story opens we make the acquaintance of Kady and Ezra, their planet is under attack from warships and it doesn’t seem like they’re taking prisoners.  Kady and Ezra were in a relationship that literally ended on the evening before the story starts but they’re momentarily flung together as they make a desperate attempt to get off planet in a fleet of ships making a bid to escape.  Of course they are once again torn apart and although it takes a little while the two of them make tentative moves to once again establish contact with each other.  It seems that the threat of a warship hot on your tail, intent on killing any witnesses is a big incentive in putting things in perspective and bringing people back together.

There’s a lot more to the story than the above of course but Kady and Ezra are the key protagonists that we follow as they not only try to stay alive but also finally reach the conclusion that the people responsible for this attack need to be exposed.

The story is written in epistolary format with briefing notes, messages and surveillance transcriptions lending the story a realistic feel.  This is a style that I really enjoy it might not be for everyone but I think it’s a good way of providing the reader with key information without the need to resort to massive info dumps.

What I think really worked well for this story was the build up of momentum.  The fleet of escape ships are at a massive disadvantage to the warship pursuing them.  They don’t have the speed and the damage sustained during the original attack on the planet of Kerensa has left their hyper jump capacity damaged, on top of this they are incapacitated further by being massively overburdened in terms of the numbers they are now carrying.  Throughout the story we watch the progress of the warship with visuals that display how many months/days and hours there are before they are intercepted which helps to heighten the tension for the reader.  Meanwhile, the feeling on board the ships trying to escape is desperate.  Information is not readily forthcoming and suspicions run deep.  All of this coincides with what appears to be a massive break down in the AI onboard one of the ships and running alongside this we start to understand that during the original attack on the planet bio weapons were used and those infected need to be quarantined.

Kady and an acquaintance she has made have turned to hacking the ship’s systems to try and uncover what is really going on.  To aid their work they need to make contact with someone on board one of the other vessels and so Kady is forced to reach out to Ezra for help.

The characters – well, I really liked Kady.   She’s a very easy to read character.  She’s quick witted, intelligent and very cool under pressure – but she has a real person’s flaws.  She may be quick at hacking into a computer network but she’s not a ninja.  She can unlock doors but doesn’t like to use weapons and she is genuinely afraid when being chased by, well, I won’t go into that!  Basically she runs the gamut of emotions and I really liked that about her.  Ezra on the other hand is probably a bit more of a simple lad – he calls a spade a spade, he doesn’t have the quick wit of Kady but he’s a good guy and loyal to a fault and I really did feel for the two of them – in fact that was actually what gave me the most tension whilst reading – I so wanted them to get back together and they just kept hitting more and more obstacles to survival.  In a reader who cares little for romance that was quite a revelation.

This is a fast paced story with plenty of action.  The action is virtually instantaneous from the start of the story and it keeps the momentum right through to the conclusion.  That thing about having your heart in your throat – I felt that at a few points whilst reading.  I wanted things to go smoothly for this pair – and yet they hit set back after set back.

In terms of criticisms.  Well, I didn’t like the layout of the book itself – I understand that it’s something of a work of art but reading on a fairly basic e-reader that doesn’t come across or work well at all.  I’m sure it works better on a traditional paper format but this is a niggle of mine, particularly as I read a lot of my books in electronic format these days – I think the book should work in both formats.  I’m not going to use this review as the opportunity to rant though as this didn’t really bother me too much as I skipped over the pages in question.  Also, I’m not entirely sure that those elements brought anything to the story – others will probably know better on that front.

I thought the ending felt a little bit rushed to be honest.  There was an opportunity to make it considerably more tense and to really work on the readers’ emotions even more – perhaps the authors decided they wanted to give us a break.

Overall, niggles aside, I found this a thoroughly enjoyable read.  I don’t really read a lot of sci fi so for me the plot and themes involved felt really quite original and very gripping.  I suppose hardened sci fi readers might feel differently in that respect.

I would definitely recommend Illuminae, it does have a romance running throughout the plot but because of the way in which the story is told this doesn’t come across as overpowering or ‘cheesy’.  There’s no insta-love here, more a realisation of what’s important to the main characters.  And, of course there’s the mystery at the heart of the novel – which still remains to be uncovered.

I will definitely pick up No.2 to see where this goes to next.  A wonderful story filled with tension and desperation.



27 Responses to “Illuminae (The Illuminae Files #1) by Amie Kaufman and Jay Kristoff #RRSciFiMonth”

  1. jenclair

    I’m interested in this one. I enjoyed The Starbound Trilogy by Kaufman and Megan Spooner and look forward to giving The Illuminae a try!

    • @lynnsbooks

      I hope you enjoy it. Look forward to seeing what you make of it.
      Lynn 😀

  2. Lynn E. O'Connacht

    Do you mean the full-page double-spread art with nigh-on unreadable text? Those work much better in print and add a nice bit of additional personality to the AI, but afaik they’re not necessary to the plot.

    Glad to hear you enjoyed this one! I enjoyed it a lot too! And, like you, I read it as an ebook and while I think they did a pretty good job at making it work in ebook format it’s… just not a layout that’s going to work well on modern ereaders. I resorted to reading it on my laptop and that didn’t even address all the problems it had, which is a real shame because it’s a gorgeous little piece of art indeed. ❤

    • @lynnsbooks

      Yes, every review I’ve seen about this book has talked about it being a work of art so I think maybe I’ll have to eventually pick up a copy of the book just to see how it works out. It’s a shame but I don’t think there was any way they could realistically make this work on kindle – the screen is just not of a size to make it work and some of the diagrams – like the schematics were impossibly small so not really possible to gain a lot of information from.
      Still a great read though.
      Lynn 😀

      • Lynn E. O'Connacht

        It is a shame, I agree, but ereaders, as wonderful as they are, aren’t yet good enough to handle something with this kind of visual complexity. Even reading on a computer screen required zooming in on certain pages for the text to be legible. And by that point you lose the impact that the pages are supposed to have. 😦 It’s a real shame. Even though the story is perfectly enjoyable as an ebook, the print edition allows you to present more peripheral information. I think it’s a testament to how compelling the story is that it still reads well in an ebook that does its utmost to be faithful to the original layout.

      • @lynnsbooks

        I admit I wish I’d bought the paper copy now instead but I still thought it was an excellent read. I have a few issues with my kindle in this respect. I love it for lots of reasons (which is a surprise because I didn’t think I would like it) but in terms of checking out glossaries or maps it really isn’t as convenient – you can’t really flip back and forth the same as you can with a book.
        Lynn 😀

  3. Tammy

    I think the print version is MUCH better than the digital for this book. I also tried to read it in digital and gave up and got a print version. I’ve also heard this series is excellent in audio! I’m trying to read Gemina by the end of the month, we’ll see!

    • @lynnsbooks

      Yes, I’ll have to grab a copy of that one – but maybe the print version – although I’m not sure if its the same type of set up.
      Lynn 😀

  4. LairOfBooks

    Wonderful review!!! I LOVED this book as well as Gemina, learned something new as well that has me googling. I had no idea that the format used in Illuminae is Epistolary…at first I found this format to be a bit intimidating but now have come to love it 😃

    • @lynnsbooks

      Excellent – good news that you loved Gemina too – I’m going to be picking that one up soon (hopefully).
      Lynn 😀

  5. maddalena@spaceandsorcery

    This book’s premise (YA protagonists in a love relationships that is cut short by planetary disaster) was not the kind I thought I would enjoy either – like you I’m no fan of romance, and YA tropes usually make me run for the hills 🙂
    But the positive, enthusiastic reviews I kept reading gave me the courage to try it, and what I found was a wonderful story, told in very peculiar, very intriguing way. I agree on your comment about the build-up of tension: when I was not reading – because of work or various chores – I kept wondering about the story, and that’s a sign that the authors did a marvelous job.

    And for the record, I had the e-book as well, and that made me miss some of the visuals, but the story did not suffer for that, not a little bit…

    • @lynnsbooks

      Yeah, to be honest I didn’t think the visuals would be particularly adding to the story other than being artistic and visually pleasing. I wonder if the second book uses the same type of approach – maybe I’ll buy the paper copy if it does.
      Lynn 😀

  6. Danya @ Fine Print

    I love a good epistolary novel and I’m very intrigued by the format of this one, so I confess that I’m quite glad I’ve got the print version rather than the e-reader. And you know me, I love a good romance, so I’m sure I’ll enjoy Kady and Ezra’s dynamic. Plus I haven’t read a single story of AI gone wrong all Sci-Fi Month, so I’m overdue! 😀

    • @lynnsbooks

      You’re definitely overdue – I’d like to know what you make of it.
      Lynn 😀

  7. Avada Kedavra

    I read some 40 pages or so and then gave up as it was all about romance. Maybe I should give it a try again.

    • @lynnsbooks

      Well, it might not be for you. I thought the romance was fairly low key because the two of them spent most of the book separate, plus I don’t like a lot of romance myself – that being said, yes, there is romance at the heart of this I suppose even if it is played down a bit.
      Lynn 😀

  8. Mogsy @ BiblioSanctum

    I know right?! Instead of “reading” Illuminae, I think it’s more accurate to say I “experienced” it – which makes me sad to hear of the issues on the ecopy. I went with the audiobook for the second book though, and that was CRAZY good! If you’re ever curious about audio, Gemina is a good one to try with because the style makes it kinda hard to drift off 🙂

    • @lynnsbooks

      I don’t think it detracted from the story – I’d just like to have that ‘experience’ too. I still really enjoyed this and will be picking up the other soon. Perhaps I should finally try an audio book eh!

  9. Greg

    I agree with this, and I read it in e- form too. A lot of people said you lose a lot without the physical copy, but I found that I got most of the diagram/ schematic/ whatever stuff just fine. Wasn’t a huge deal. Anyway i also liked the countdown timer- that was nice. I wasn’t as crazy about the AI as some people were, that part irritated me at times- but all in all a solid read.

    • @lynnsbooks

      To be honest I don’t really think I particularly missed anything from the story by not really being able to check out the visuals – I suppose it lost the artistic feel that readers of the book experienced but I wasn’t too worried about that – the story was good enough. I think on reflection though, had I known I would have bought the paper version – just so I could check it out. I know what you mean about the A1 – Mogsy said she found that pov a bit ‘flowery’ – might not be the exact description she used but something similar – and I can see that although there were definite parts of the AI conversation that made me laugh.

  10. BookHarpy

    I bought Illuminae over three months ago and it still is sitting on my shelf unread. I do plan to get to it, but I just haven’t felt the right motivation to pick it up yet.

    • @lynnsbooks

      You have to have the right feeling don’t you. The sci fi event this month has definitely encouraged me to pick it up.
      Lynn 😀

  11. sjhigbee

    This is a book I’ve promised myself to get hold of soon – apart from anything else, I LOVE that cover…

  12. Lauren @ Always Me

    Great review! I just finished the sequel and it was wonderful! Hope you like Gemina. 🙂

  13. November: My month in review | Books and travelling with Lynn

    […] Illuminae by Amie Kaufman and Jay Kristoff #RRSciFiMonth […]

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