For every book we read during the book club, we’ll write a review so that anyone who couldn’t be there can still join in with the fun! Saskia den Ouden is our YA book club reviewer, judging all the books we read.
Science fiction is a genre that spans centuries, continents and hundreds of sub genres. How do you write a novel that’s original and refreshing in such an extensive genre?
That is a question Amie Kaufman and Jay Kristoff tried to answer with Illuminae (the first book of the Illuminae files) by taking the setting of a space war, mixing in a crazy AI, a dash of zombies and a heap of tragedy.
Illuminae is an epistolary set in 2575. It is told through various interviews, documents, military reports, IM’s and other methods. It tells the tale of two teenagers, Kady and Ezra, who lived through an attack of a megacorporation, Beitech, on their home planet, Karenza. Together they manage to escape, with the help of the United Terran Authority. The kicker is that the two broke up a few hours prior to the attacks.
Once escaped, together with a few thousand other survivors spread over three different vessels, it becomes clear that, although Beitech is still on their heels, they have bigger things to worry about, like a deadly virus, a crazy AI and the fact that their safe point might not be so safe after all.
Although epistolaries in science fiction aren’t wholly original and genre hopping in science fiction definitely isn’t, Kaufman and Kristoff did manage to use this format to tell an incredibly exciting tale, not just in pacing but also visually. They included schematics of all the ships, PSA’s, flight patterns of the fighter ships and much more that to my mind make the book really immersive and fun.
The pacing, although a bit weird, also helps with that. This may be a deterrent to some, because it’s very asymmetrical. The first half of the book spans about 6 months, where especially in the last few weeks the story really starts to move forward. The second half spans only about a day or so where the events in the book come to a head.
The other thing that might be a deterrent is that it involves a lot of characters. Although the primary protagonist is Kady and to a lesser extent Ezra, we do get to read the after action reports, emails and IM’s of other characters, mostly of military personnel and a handful of civilians, which can bog someone down while reading and get confused. Although most entries in the files are marked clearly with a sender and receiver it is very easy to accidentally skip and it can be a pain to retrace everything.
I personally really liked the book. The characters of Ezra and Kady aren’t fleshed out all that much, which at first bothered me, but that stopped when I got to end of the book. Mild spoiler alert, we do know the fate of them for the rest of the series by the end of the first book. However there is enough left over for the writers to flesh out and looking at the synopsis of Gemina (book 2, due to be released in October) it seems two new main characters will be introduced to fret over.
What the writers did do really well is show the dichotomy between what the governing body (in this case the military) is really dealing with and what they tell the people in the interest of ‘public safety’. I personally found that really interesting, because there are parallels to be drawn between this situation and our own governments and it makes you wonder how much is happening that you as an average citizen have no idea about.
As a final verdict I’m going to be very blunt; you’ll either hate it this book or you’ll love it. And both is understandable. Science fiction and non-linear narration are my jam, but I am very aware that most people don’t fall into this category. However if you’re interesting in reading something a little different and if you’re not objecting to science fiction, definitely give it a shot.