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