As you might or might not remember, I read Illuminae at the beginning of the year. It blew my mind. I already knew I loved epistolary novels, but this cemented epistolary as one of my favorite genres (not a genre, you say? A format? I don’t care. Still favorite). A fast-paced, gut-wrenching, super sciency, conspiracy theory filled roller coaster through space– I couldn’t get enough of Gemina and its characters.
Warning: Spoilers for Illuminae will follow. If you haven’t read it, check out my review here, or just go out and read it immediately. It’s sooo worth it. Then scroll to the bottom and read my last statement.
It’s not about what I say, right? It’s what I do that matters here.
Gemina starts during the Kerenza Trials, as the Executive Director of BeiTech has taken the stand to provide testimony about the events on Space Station Heimdall. As you might recall, Kady and the crew of Hypatia are heading to Heimdall Station to escape the carnage and get the word out that BeiTech attacked the mining colony Kerenza. Events in Gemina pick up at the end of Illuminae.
As with Illuminae there is a lot going on. Only this time, things feel more mature from the beginning. The Space Station Commander’s daughter, Hanna, is dating the perfect man. Yet, she is still leading on Nik because, well, he’s her drug dealer. Anything to get a better deal, right? Other than a crime syndicate doing business on the space station, things seem to be pretty smooth on Heimdall. Only as the big Terra Day celebration looms closer, so does the Hypatia on the other side of the jump station. And, obviously, then things begin to spiral out of control.
You get no more because spoilers.
Then let Operation Termopylae commence.
There are many similarities between Illuminae and Gemina. Both are epistolary in nature, feature strong female protagonists who won’t take crap from anyone (SQUEE!), require protagonists to do crazy things which beat all the odds to try to survive (DO THEY SURVIVE?!), contain a ton of humor, and are at the same time surprisingly subtle. However, everything Illuminae did Gemina did better.
In my opinion, we have stronger characterization, stronger relationships, a better story, better use of epistolary elements, and well, everything. Expanding upon the epistolary elements, Kaufman and Kristoff have now enlisted the artistic talents of Marie Lu to provide illustrations in Hanna’s physical journal. The word art is a bit less in this book, but the use of art as an epistolary element is much more prominent. In fact, it even provides more tension in many cases. The art is used to provide foreshadowing for the text, which I found brilliant, as these documents are all part of the case file for the Kerenza Trials. We are reading them long after the events occurred.
And now, born from the ashes, she’s a warrior in bloodied black.
There was more narrative in this book that the previous. Lots of times a third party observer is describing video footage they are watching. This provides a narrative element we were missing in the first book. Honestly, I felt like it slowed things down sometimes, but it did provide a better image of what was going on. This avenue provided stronger world building as most other character interactions are described through instant message, walkie talkie channel transcripts, and journal entries. I certainly had a better vision of what was going on this time, but it lessened the pacing.
My favorite character is easily Ella. Trapped in a wheelchair after contracting a deadly disease, Ella taught herself to be a computer prodigy just so she could have some form of independence. She is snarky and fun and her existence created tension and drama like I wouldn’t believe.
That’s all you get. Because spoilers.
As with the last book, I will sign off before I share all my opinions. This book is amazing. It’s hard to describe anything without giving away something– every movement, word, image, and moment in this book is critical to driving the story forward. I’ll just leave you with this:
OMG ALL CAPS INCOMING SHIELDS TO FULL
[ |_/” “
What do you think?
- Have you read either of The Illuminae Files books? Do you like them? Who are your favorite characters?
- What do you think of epistolary novels?
- Any read-alike recommendations you have for YA science fiction or epistolary novels? Any actual sci-fi epsitolary novels you can think of?