Review: Illuminae

This morning, Kady thought breaking up with Ezra was the hardest thing she’d have to do. This afternoon, her planet was invaded.

The year is 2575, and two rival mega-corporations are at war over her planet. Too bad nobody thought to warn the people living on it. With enemy fire raining down on them, Kady and Ezra are forced to fight their way onto an evacuating fleet. But their problems are just getting started, with an enemy warship in hot pursuit. A deadly plague has broken out, the fleet’s AI, which should be protecting them, may actually be their enemy and nobody in charge will say what’s really going on.

Right off the bat, I have to say that this is one of the most wonderful and original books I have ever read. It has made its way to my all-time favourites pile immediately upon completion.

This is mainly due to its unusual format. The entire story is told through a dossier of documents. These are hacked by the main character Kady – including emails, schematics, military files, IMs, medical reports, interviews, and more. This format makes everything incredibly interesting and much more fun, because you never get the full story. Unlike books with narrators or elaborate descriptions, you have to piece everything together bit by bit.

“Miracles are statistical improbabilities. And fate is an illusion humanity uses to comfort itself in the dark.

There are no absolutes in life, save death.”

This makes for an unexpectedly tense read. It may seem that the authors have put unbelievable limitations on themselves with this approach. However, they navigate these problematic waters with ease. I’ve never seen anything like it before and the story is never lacking for it. On the contrary, the slow unravelling of the mystery pulls the reader in and the lack of an omnipotent narrator makes everything happening a bit more real.

What’s it about?

The beginning throws you right into the action with a planet invasion. The writing is so clever and effective that even though they don’t give you any proper introduction to the world, you never feel confused.

The main protagonist of the story is a high school student Kady. Her life uproots once her colony is attacked and she boards one of the rescue vessels. But escaping the demolished planet was only the beginning of her fight for survival.

Kady is smart. Not just in the “smart enough to survive” kind of a way I feel most YA heroines are. She is actually highly intelligent, educated and tech-savvy. She also has a slight problem with authorities. There is nothing half-way or safe about the character of Kady and that is why I like her so much. She feels fresh, raw and human. The only unrealistic thing about her is her seemingly never-ending repertoire of hacking skills. This helps her solve every problem fairly with ease.

“She is catalyst. She is chaos.
I can see why he loves her.”

On the opposite side of the character spectrum, we have her ex-boyfriend Ezra. He is a fun, loving and charming good guy who always follows the rules and does the heroic thing.

The characters are wonderfully written within the restrictions of the format and you find yourself invested in their fate very early on. I also felt like the traditional roles of the hero and a damsel in distress were a bit reversed. Kady ​being the brilliant hacker independent rebel and him a love-struck funny pilot.

Why is it so good?

The pacing of this book is phenomenal. It is action-packed from the first page. Even with a considerable length of around 600 pages, the reader doesn’t get bored for a second.  At about one-third into the book the plot starts to thicken. After that shit really starts to go down and it only gets worse (or better) from there. A deadly pathogen breaks out on the ship and adds a layer of good old monster sci-fi horror to an already brewing mix of being stranded in space and a government conspiracy. Add one crazy AI and you have a full roster of space-themed nightmares and phobias.

“It’s not the bullets that kill you. It’s moments like these.

One piece at a time.”

And that is not the only reason you might need therapy after reading this. Let me warn you right now, this book is cold and full of twists, turns and never-ending desperation. By the horrors I mentioned above, it should be clear by now that our main heroes do not have a nice time. Beware, the massive plot twist awaiting you in there will actually break your heart.

I recommend this book everyone. It is simply a masterpiece. It has everything not only a sci-fi fan could look for –  mystery, political conflict, zombies, crazy robots, bravery, love and heartbreak. I laughed, I cried, I was scared and I loved every second of it.

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