It's been a long time since I did a book review. Probably because it's been a long time since a book captured my attention enough to read it through to the end, let alone keep me from my writing. Illuminae, a young adult science-fiction novel by Amie Kaufman and Jay Kristoff, is the first of a trilogy (it also has a prequel novella). Here's the Amazon blurb:
"Kady thought breaking up with Ezra was the worst thing she’d ever been through. That was before her planet was invaded. Now, with enemy fire raining down on them, Kady and Ezra are forced to fight their way onto one of the evacuating craft, with an enemy warship in hot pursuit.
But the warship could be the least of their problems. A deadly plague has broken out and is mutating, with terrifying results; the fleet’s AI, which should be protecting them, may actually be their biggest threat; and nobody in charge will say what’s really going on. As Kady plunges into a web of data hacking to get to the truth, it’s clear only one person can help her bring it all to light: Ezra.
Told through a fascinating dossier of hacked documents—including emails, schematics, military files, IMs, medical reports, interviews, and more—Illuminae is the first book in a heart-stopping, high-octane trilogy about lives interrupted, the price of truth, and the courage of everyday heroes."
Based on the description, I wasn't so sure I would like the book, but the format pulled me in. It's written as a dossier filled with files, emails, journal entries, messages, radio correspondence, schematics, and more. Each piece of the file weaves an intricate story that drew me in until I found myself up past midnight two nights to finish this book.
Let's begin with what I didn't like. First, I was not happy with the use of Jesus' name as an expletive throughout the book. The authors have redacted (or blacked out) all curse words as part of the story, a "request" by the character who ordered the dossier (what a brilliant way to swear your way through a YA book without an editor telling you to remove 80% of the words). But swear words using God and Jesus were flagrant and not blacked out. I understand this won't offend many people, but for me, it was frustrating and pulled me out of the story.
Second, there was a lot (A LOT) of graphic violence. It wasn't so much that the violence itself bothered me—it happens during a war—but that they geared the book toward young adults. Desensitizing the YA crowd is an issue for me since our world clearly needs to value human life more. Growing up completely desensitized to the loss of life spells trouble if you ask me.
That said, there was a lot to love about the book. Beneath everything was this tense romance between the two primary characters. It really portrayed how awful it would be to find yourself young, in love, and in the middle of an all-out extermination effort against your community.
Kady wasn't the most likable character at first (super heavy-handed insinuation that she is a powerful female that comes across as forced in places,) but after about the 25% mark, I found myself eager to read her next scene. Ezra, though, is a sweet cuddle muffin and if you've read this and don't like him, something is very wrong. I'm kidding, but I adored him.
Then there is AIDAN, the AI system that goes... shall we say, homicidal, but also has this strangely endearing personality that comes to light at about the 75% mark. I was conflicted about this "character" but ultimately, I think there is a lot we don't know about AIDAN in the first book. I'll let you know after I read the next two!
As for the ending... wow. I was NOT expecting that plot twist. I'm usually pretty good at narrowing down things like that, but this one... not even a blip on my radar.
The plot is intentionally choppy given its format, but it works for this novel. I would recommend reading this in print since the e-book is awkward on smaller devices. I have heard the audiobook version is amazing with sound effects and multiple narrators. But again, I think that would bother me given the number of times they used Jesus as an expletive. I really had to use my discernment skills here, but overall I think the theme of the book has good intent—that everyone, including teenagers, should have a voice when their lives are at stake, and that sometimes NO ONE knows the right thing to do.
Overall, I would give it five stars as a story, four stars because I think it misses the mark with its influence on a younger crowd. I consumed this book in two days, which is something for a homeschooling mom with a to-do list ten miles long. Then I stared at the ceiling for half an hour each night thinking about it (and maybe also wondering what every noise was in my house.) I'm finally exiting that post-book haze where you realize it's not real and you can breathe now. And now for book two. Wish me luck, I'm going in!