17-year-old Kady Grant has just broken up with her boyfriend Ezra Mason but while she’s sitting in class and staring out of the window she quickly realizes that her day will be getting even far worse soon. What she sees outside of her classroom are several battleships of the big megacorporation BeiTech Industries that has just started to attack Kady’s home planet Kerenza to get its hands on the hermium resources that their rival, the Wallace Ulyanov Consortium, has been harvesting illegally for the past two decades. The BeiTech invasion hits Kerenza completely unprepared and results in a bloody massacre in which most of the population is eliminated. Kady and her ex-boyfriend Ezra managed to escape the centre of the attack and reach an evacuating fleet but not only do they end up on different ships – Ezra on the battlecarrier „Alexander“ and Kady on the science vessel „Hypatia“ – but are also pursued by a BeiTech battleship that seems determined to not let a single soul escape alive. Heavily damaged by the attack on Kerenza the WUC fleet tries to escape its deadly enemy while suddenly a new threat emerges from the inside of their own ships…
Two teenage ex-lovers in the middle of an interstellar war
When I read the blurb for Amie Kaufmans and Jay Kristoffs science fiction novel „Illuminae“ for the first time it left me both excited but also a bit wary. The story about an interstellar war combined with a deadly plague sounded interesting but what made the book almost a must-read for me was the fact that the story is being told solely through a dossier of „hacked“ documents like chat protocols, email conversations, medical reports or interviews – a narration style I absolutely love. But then there was also the aspect about the two protagonists Kady and Ezra who just became ex-lovers when the story sets in and there’s nothing I hate more in a book than when an annoying romance gets all the attention and suppresses the actual plot – yes, Tris and Four, I’m staring at you right now. Luckily „Illuminae“ starts off with two interviews starring Kady and Ezra and if you only have the slightest sense of humor then there’s basically no way you’re NOT going to love both of them right from the start because they are just hilarious. I seriously didn’t expect to be laughing so hard about two teenagers talking about how their home planet just got annihilated shortly after they broke up.
Enemy battleships, a deadly virus and an artificial intelligence out of control
With a beginning like this and two amazing characters like Kady Grant and Ezra Mason it was pretty easy to dive straight into the story even though both the protagonists are a bit of a cliché with pink-haired hacker girl on the one side and good-looking space ship pilot on the other side. But you have barely time to complain about this anyway because you get thrown right into a deadly pursuit through space with the battlecarrier „Alexander“ and the science vessel „Hypatia“ on the good site and the „Lincoln“ representing the evil BeiTech side. And if you thought that the beginning of „Illuminae“ with the Battle of Kerenza was already pretty terrifying then better be aware that from that moment on it’s only getting worse with a virus breaking out on one of the Kerenza ships and the artificial intelligence AIDAN running wild and thus becoming another deadly threat. It might be a bit confusing at first to tell the different ships and characters apart and divide them into good and evil because you don’t get a lot of background information about the universe Kady and Ezra live resulting from the fact that Amie Kaufman and Jay Kristoff limit the story to what’s happening on board of the „Alexander“ and the „Hypatia“ – but this rather limited setting is sufficient to „Illuminae“ become an amazing and unforgettable space adventure of which I enjoyed every single moment.
A narrative style that is as epic as the story itself
I absolutely loved the dossier style because it was just perfectly executed: There’s so much to discover (look out for the little „Easter Eggs“ such as prominent authors like Leigh Bardugo or Trudi Canavan showing up on „confirmed casualties“ lists) and so much variety and all these little pieces really provide the whole range of feelings. You can laugh out loud during the chat conversations between Kady and Ezra, get terrified by radio calls that throw you right in the middle of fights for life and death, get your nerves wrecked by the ticking clock that counts down the hours and minutes until the catastrophe or get your heart ripped apart by dialogues between characters that are facing their final moments and are never going to see each other again. It all feels so realistic and intense that it’s like you yourself are right among the passengers of the space ships and are fighting for your life together with your comrades and friends. Also the design of the book itself is already a piece of art because there are a lot of pages that play with typography and thus perfectly catch the mood of the story. I enjoyed the whole concept of this book so much that I was almost disappointed every time I was facing one of the „surveillance footage summaries“ because compared to all the exciting interviews, chats or diary entries these parts seemed almost boringly normal and I felt nearly tempted to skim them just because I wanted to head to the next email conversation or radio message.
One of the best books of the year
Overall „Illuminae“ was for sure one of the top 3 books I’ve read in 2015 and an amazing and unique read that by far exceeded my expectations. I loved the setting, I loved the characters, I loved the narration, I loved the design, I loved the sarcasm, I loved the story, I loved how Kaufman and Kristoff dealt with the romance which wasn’t annoying at all and I even loved how poetic the artificial intelligence AIDAN was while causing mayhem on board of the ships even though I usually deeply dislike poetry. „Illuminae“ isn’t just a book, it’s an experience – one that will keep you breathless, leave you speechless and one you definitely shouldn’t miss if you’re only slightly interested in science fiction. Trust me, it’s epic and you definitely won’t regret reading it.