TL/DR: 6 stars. Holy crap this book is a gorgeous, tense, addicting ride. Read it immediately. No. Seriously. What are you waiting for?!
Brace yourselves for a gigantic SQUEE.
I am riding the high of an incredible story. A spectacular ride through unique storytelling in a familiar genre with twists and turns that kept me spinning. A captivating story that had me on the edge of my seat and unable to stop reading. After ending the book, I literally had to dance. Not because the book was happy– but because it filled me with so many emotions, and merely from words.
There is A LOT going on in this novel. Kady and Ezra break up. Their planet is invaded and they get evacuated on two separate ships. Civilians are conscripted upon arrival in these ships to help with escaping from the other bad-guy ships chasing them: Kady on the Science ship becomes a hacker, and Ezra on the command ship becomes a fighter pilot.
Then things become intense.
The draft of Juliet sought at her Romeo’s lips.
Madness and poison, carved in endless scrawls of ones and zeros.
A binary of insanity.
“You expressed displeasure at my humor. Why would I attempt it again?”
“Um, because you’re loopier than Flaky McPsycho, Mayor of Crazytown?”
…Like I said: Intense.
Nothing ceases to exist. Energy does not perish. It merely changes forms. The ones you love, the ones you lose, they still exist as long as the cosmos does.
I learned through reading The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society that I really enjoy epistolary novels. And this novel takes the cake. Told through journal entries, chat conversations, emails, military files, blueprints, footage transcriptions, and AI processing files, Illuminae redefines the style of epistolary novel.
There are two keys to a quality epistolary novel:
1. The epistolary element must be convincing.
2. The fact that that narrative is composed of documents much not detract from the character development, emotional discourse, or world-building.
The reason this book is successful with the first key is because the opening letter introduces this as a dossier covering events that took place last year. It’s addressed to the megacorporation who’s unethical behavior started this entire chain of events. This means the collection of diversity in types of documents is to be expected. Plus, these documents eventually turn into works of art themselves. We start with Ezra’s nerdy ASCII art and expand from there.
Now, the second key. As I was reading Illumnae, I found that eventually I did not even notice the book was epistolary
ByteMe: I don’t even know if I could shoot
Mason, E, LT 2nd: its easy
Mason, E, LT 2nd: point red dot at what u want to die
Mason, E, LT 2nd: squeeze trigger
Mason, E, LT 2nd: it dies
Mason, E, LT 2nd: repeat
To show the depth and magnitude of the events happening on these ships, we meet a lot of characters. But our main characters are always Kady and Ezra. What I love about them is how flawed they are. Erza makes wise-cracking, 20th-century sexist jokes. Kady is a bit broken from her loss– scared and lonely. But when each of them look like they are about to reach their limit, we find they are more complicated than the surface immature teens they are. We find they are complex and are capable of more than even they ever thought they would be.
At first, I didn’t care too much about them. I enjoyed their personalities and how they played off each other, but not the characters themselves. Slowly, I came to love them and care for them. It was very subtle.
I knew I cared for them once I hit page 294.
am i not merciful?
That’s also the page where I realize I wouldn’t be able to stop reading until the end. You have been warned.
There is so much more I could say. SO MUCH more. But I don’t want to spoil the entire book for you. This is a beautiful, artistic, breathing, intense, nerve-wracking ride. And I hope you take it.