Illuminae by Kaufman & Kristoff: Review

✩✩✩✩  4 out of 5

First off, I don’t like giving five stars. Five stars implies perfection when perfection itself is subjective – I think star rating systems are fine depending on how they’re used; for the most part I grade based on level of enjoyment and man, did I seriously enjoy this book.

As usual, the blurb for your convenience (am I not merciful?):

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 megacorporations are at war over a planet that’s little more than a speck at the edge of the universe. Now with enemy fire raining down on them, Kady and Ezra—who are barely even talking to each other—are forced to evacuate with a hostile warship in hot pursuit.

But their problems are just getting started. A plague has broken out and is mutating with terrifying results; the fleet’s AI may actually be their enemy; and nobody in charge will say what’s really going on. As Kady hacks into a web of data to find the truth, it’s clear the only person who can help her is the ex-boyfriend she swore she’d never speak to again.

Told through a fascinating dossier of hacked documents—including emails, maps, files, IMs, medical reports, interviews, and more—Illuminae is the first book in a heart-stopping trilogy about lives interrupted, the price of truth, and the courage of everyday heroes.

Title: Illuminae                                                                                                                                       Author: Amie Kaufman and Jay Kristoff                                                                                               Date Published: October 2016                                                                                                                 Hardback pages: 599

What’s so great about this book is how unique it is both in format and in genre. It’s a seriously fun thing to read despite the quite dire circumstances it depicts and I would recommend it to anyone for its style alone. It’s a visually stimulating epistolary unlike anything I have ever read before. I would hesitate to actually term it ‘reading’ because the book is a whole experience unto itself. [and if you believe you’d be at a loss for emotional attachment and character development in an epistolary novel, prepare to be sorely mistaken, scared, and a little bit shaken up…]

The novel opens with a letter introducing us to the format, explaining that the dossier we are about to read is made up of documents pertaining to a years worth of events compiled for us by an organisation called ‘Illuminae’. These documents tell the story of how Kady and Ezra’s home planet is invaded and details a quasi-political, fierce and covert car chase through space in which the cars are actually spacecraft and one of the drivers, an AI called AIDAN, might actually be both self-aware and insane beyond all reason. Got it? good.

Despite the level of depth given to us the narrative is surprisingly easy to follow, the ship names are different enough that confusion is easily avoided and scientific mumbo-jumbo is kept to a manageable minimum. Beyond the level of words though, the layout is what really makes this book shine.

The pages are breathtaking, I mean, look at some of them [ADDED NOTE: AVOID EBOOK VERSIONS IF POSSIBLE]:

A typical Correspondence type page.
This artistic rendering of Edvard Munch’s The Scream made out of code.
and a leaflet that hints at what isn’t being said.

I mean, what more can I say? It’s seriously unique and keeps you absolutely, irrevocably fastened to it’s narrative until the very end (which is also beautiful by the way).

After reading the blurb , the first thing that may strike you is the focus on that-there-relationship-type-thing between Kady and Ezra. It IS a central part of the plot and  DOES feature throughout but have no fear sceptical reader, the teens are literally light-years apart for much of the 599 page dossier so it’s really not so bad as all that. Plus, the lovey-dovey stuff is critiqued internally by the characters themselves so if you’re not a fan of the teenage romance narrative there’s usually a character at hand to recite exactly what it is you’re thinking. The only thing that really places Illuminae in the Young Adult genre is the age of the protagonists; the authors, Kaufman and Kristoff fearlessly deal with adult issues and are unafraid to deal with complex problems including PTSD and death so it is really a book for more than just YA readers. If you are a fan of the romance narrative you won’t be disappointed; it’s a book in which you can choose what you prefer to focus on.

There is SO MUCH to focus on. It skillfully combines the elements of romance, dystopia , zombie apocalypse narratives, sci-fi and YA without really overloading you with any of it. The characters were pleasantly damaged and flawed and the pace was executed phenomenally with virtually no moments in which I really wanted to put it down. There were twists that effectively surprised me and single words carefully placed so as to make your heart skip a beat. A brilliant read and a tough one to follow. Next stop, Gemina…

Find it on Goodreads

Buy it on / Bookdepository


  1. Tiana | 11th Jan 17

    Beautiful photos! I haven’t read Illuminae yet, but I am looking forward to it!

    • tackfiction | 11th Jan 17

      Thank you! It’s truly such an interesting book, I hope you like it when you get to it! 😊

  2. Gemina by Amie Kaufman and Jay Kristoff: Review – Tackfiction | 3rd Mar 17

    […] liked Illuminae I really fail to see how there’s any chance you wont love Gemina.  (Click here to read a review of Illuminae […]

  3. Everything, Everything by Nicola Yoon: Review – Tackfiction | 15th May 17

    […] form of the novel and play around with info-graphics and new things (it was a favourite feature in Illuminae!) That being said, these pages contributed a lot to the overall page number of the book and, […]

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