Review: Illuminae (The Illuminae Files #1) by Amie Kaufman & Jay Kristoff

Disclaimer: I had to DNF at 70% of the book.

I tried with this book. I tried so hard. I knew it was a hyped up book back when it came out and many people were telling me to read it so I put it on my list. I bought the book and let it sit on my shelves for years. My only saving grace is that I didn’t actually use my own money on this book because I’d be super upset if I did. I don’t know why I keep telling myself I can enjoy a book written by Jay Kristoff because the truth is I can’t and I now know that I never will. He is not the author for me. I was naive enough to think “hey, maybe because he has a co-author here it’ll be better” but it wasn’t really better. I could still feel his pretentious nature bleeding from the pages and it bothered me. At least I read enough of this book I can still review it properly but there’s not enough money in the world to actually make me finish it.

I understand that this book is written in an unconventional narrative, to which I’m sure I should be able to commend, but the problem with writing in things like transcripts, emails, and video logs is that you don’t actually get a meaningful story. It’s inventive and different, making it stand out from literally every other book in the YA market. But is this type of narrative worth every other sacrifice? No. When I say that this book is surface level I mean that it is a “what you see is what you get” kind of thing and has literally no layers to it. Is there a world in this book? Sure, but is it actually built and developed? No. Are there characters in this book with semi-important roles? Yes, but there are no arcs or development that’s actually tangible. The problem with this book’s narrative is that it’s a big old telling me and not showing me type of spectacle. I am told that Kady and Ezra used to be together and still apparently love each other but I don’t see it or feel it. I am told that there’s a deadly virus that’s very similar to The Flare disease in The Maze Runner but I don’t get to understand it. I am told that there’s a vague evil company or whatever hunting down these people on the spacecrafts but I don’t know who they are, what they want, or even why they’re the “villain” in the story. And then there’s the AI that’s apparently causing all the havoc which, quite frankly, is the source of all the pretension in this book. The problem is that I am simply being told everything that goes on in this book but I am not being shown it, therefore I can’t find interest or actual understanding of the book’s purpose and plot. So this might be a unique way of storytelling but I can’t seem to find the story that’s actually being told.

In addition to a plot with little dimension, the characters are so bare minimum one dimensional that I don’t even think there’s anything to make them anything beyond stereotypical ideas on paper. You initially meet Ezra and Kady, the presumed protagonists, through interrogations on separate ships and spend the rest of the book (or at least to where I stopped) learning the most basic things about their characters through quick IMs and impressions from other people’s reports. Ezra becomes some kind of pilot and Kady is a hacker. That’s it, that’s their characters. You could argue there’s depth to them because they’re both on their own and missing their parents but it’s not like you get to explore that depth. You don’t even get to explore them patching things up in their relationship because they simply say one “I love you” to each other and all is well. There’s barely any background to their characters, let alone their relationship, and there’s no character journey for either of them. Like I said, very surface level and overall, quite poorly written. I wish that there was at least one character that was worth reading this for but there was nothing meaningful here at all.

I can see what this book wanted to do, bring back the Hard Sci-Fi of Yore, but this was a very poor way to do it. On one hand, I feel like the messaging narrative is an interesting way to get a non-reader to read this book, but there’s too much going on for a book that says very little. There’s an intangible plot, basic characters, and a low stakes antagonist that could barely keep my interest. I know it’s not because this is a sci-fi book that’s making me dislike this because I know I can read sci-fi; I simply cannot read this. And if I were this book’s designer I would sue for damages. This story is not worth all the shit they went through to typeset and design this book.

I think the only bright side to this is that I now know there is nothing in this world that can make me want to read a book by Jay Kristoff again. I have learned my lesson. 

Rating: 2 out of 5.
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Paperback, 608 pages
Published April 25th 2017 by Ember (first published October 20th 2015)

Book Synopsis

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.

Goodreads | Indigo | Amazon

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