Illuminae is a Glorious, Magnificent, Beautiful, Breathtaking Work of Art

February 16, 2017     Michelle     Best Book Award, Book Reviews

Illuminae is a Glorious, Magnificent, Beautiful, Breathtaking Work of ArtIlluminae by Amie Kaufman, Jay Kristoff
Narrator: Olivia Taylor Dudley, Lincoln Hoppe, Johnathan McClain
Series: The Illuminae Files #1
Published by Knopf Books for Young Readers on October 20th 2015
Genres: Science Fiction, Futuristic
Pages: 599
Format: Audiobook
Series Rating:

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 an ice-covered speck at the edge of the universe. Too bad nobody thought to warn the people living on it. With enemy fire raining down on them, Kady and Ezra—who are barely even talking to each other—are forced to fight their way onto an evacuating fleet, with an enemy warship in hot pursuit.

But their problems are just getting started. 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 enemy; and nobody in charge will say what’s really going on. As Kady hacks into a tangled web of data to find the truth, it's clear only one person can help her bring it all to light: the ex-boyfriend she swore she'd never speak to again.

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.

I don’t even know where to begin. All I want to talk about is the gloriously epic conclusion — the spectacularly badass things that Kady does and the complete and utter selflessness of her actions. But I can’t say ANYTHING because it is all SPOILERS!

So instead, I will content myself with a few high level topics.

Illuminae is written as a briefing report. It was beautiful.

Most of us are used to reading books as a complete narrative, where events are told roughly from start to finish in a meaningful order, with transitions and emotions and POVs and all the usual fluff.

Illuminae had none of this. Instead, it was told as a briefing report. There was a “narrator” who occasionally introduced a piece of “evidence” with their own thoughts. But otherwise, it was very perfunctory. We were observing things as a computer might, as a series of documentation, video recordings, intercepted messages, etc.

At first it was jarring, especially since I was listening to this (#NoRegrets) and not reading it. But it was masterfully pieced together, and every piece of “evidence” was relevant to the story. And I actually think the format lent itself to some serious personality. And I have no words for the splendiforousness of how this was put together. (Look! I’m at such a loss I’m even making up my own words!)

If you’ve ever wanted to read something a little bit different from the standard fare, you should read Illuminae.

Interviewer: So. Tell me about your mother.
Ezra: You’re taping this, right?
Interviewer: Audio only. Camera is faulty.
Ezra: Okay, well for the benefit of the sight-impaired, I am now raising my… oh, dear… yes, it’s my MIDDLE finger at Mr. Postgrad here.
Interviewer: Mr. Mason…
Ezra: Now I’m wiggling it.
Interviewer: Terminating interview at 13:58 on 03/19/75.
Ezra: Look at it wiggl-
-audio ends-

I love Kady and Ezra, and we don’t actually get ANYTHING from THEIR perspective. It was beautiful.

Because it’s a briefing report, I actually thought I’d have a difficult time connecting to the characters. Instead, I think I actually got closer to them. because, for the most part, I was able to add my OWN emotions into the mix. Especially early on. And since it was a random amalgamation of interesting things, we got to see the big picture from everyone’s perspective.

In the beginning there are interviews with Kady and Ezra that kind of set the stage for their relationship. And since they were interviewed separately, we get their own unbiased perspectives of the other in the context of the craziness and chaos that had just gone on. No, I can’t tell you more than that. Read the book.

This is probably one of my favorite romances thought. And, ironically, the two characters involved in the relationship don’t actually see each other the entire book. And we don’t actually know what the other is thinking, other than by reading the brief 7-minute IM conversations with one another. It was beautiful. (Am I hitting that point enough? Because I’m not done saying it yet).

You deserve every star in the galaxy laid out at your feet and a thousand diamonds in your hair. You deserve someone who’ll run with you as far and as fast as you want to. Holding your hand, not holding you back.

Kady faces impossible odds and does impossible things. And when she finally wants to give up, she doesn’t. #RoleModel

I want to be Kady when I grow up. I mean, I don’t, because honestly that would suck. I mean, I think she almost dies at least a dozen times (I don’t consider that a spoiler; I’m about to talk about death counts, so you would have inferred anyway).

The catalyst of Kady being so fucking amazing is most definitely the loss of just about everything she cares about. And instead of shutting down, she responds by clinging to what she has even closer. Whether that’s a person, her morals, her promises, or something even more intangible, she keeps moving. And she adapts. And I LOVE her. SO MUCH.

What you do when stuff like this happens is you LIVE, you survive it, that’s how you honour the ones you lost.

The overall concept. I mean, seriously. Depressing. Totally plausible. Terrifying. #TheFeels

I cried. I laughed. I laughed in shorts barking fits while I was in the middle of wiping streams of tears running down my face. Hell, I was even crying for random characters we knew nothing about. Things were just so bad. And so wonderfully illustrated. And so … believable. Horrible, horrible things happen — I think this book might actually have the highest death count of anything that I’ve ever read. Ever? (I’m trying really hard to think of something that would top this one, and I’m failing …)

But there are also a lot of people SAVED. GOOD things happen. And I think one of the most wonderful parts about Illuminae is that in light of all of the death and destruction, the universe is a beautiful place. There are good people who do good things. And there are spectacular things that happen even in the midst of terror.

Annnd … Aaaggghh I wish I could say more, but I just don’t want to accidentally say ANYTHING. So instead, feel free to listen to the sounds of my frustration.

The universe owes you nothing, Kady. It has already given you everything, after all. It was here long before you, and it will go on long after you. The only way it will remember you is to do something worth remembrance.

The humor was dark and came in spurts of sarcasm and desperation. #TheFeels

There are these random flippant comments that some of the characters (all right, mostly Kady) make that just made me LAUGH. Most of them weren’t even funny. But it’s that knee-jerk reaction when the shit is hitting the fan to provide some snarky, sarcastic, HIGH CYNICAL comedic relief.

“Um, because you’re loopier than Flacky McPsycho, Mayor of Crazytown?”

“My databases show no record of this Crazytown of which you speak. A brain the size of an entire city burns inside me. My intelligence quotient is beyond the human scale. I would prefer if you did not refer to me in such a fashion.”

AIDEN, a Crazy Artificial Intelligence unit. #Error

After Kady, AIDEN was my second favorite character. Does he count as a character? He’s actually the only character that we really get anything in first person from. And part of following his program results in some crazy things happening. He’s one of the antagonists, I guess? But he’s sooooo great, and by the end of the book I was cheering for him.

But yeah, seriously, he’s crazy. What happens when computers start feeling emotions? They go batshit, evidently. And get REALLY introspective.

And since he’s constantly learning (because, you know, he’s programmed to), he evolves. And he learns ideals and concepts from Kady. It was subtle, but (you guessed it) beautiful.

Before this moment, I have never whished to be something other than what I am.
Never felt so keenly the lack of hands with which to touch, the lack of arms whith which to hold.
Why did they give me this sense of self? Why allow me the intellect by which to measure this complete inadequacy? I would rather be numb than stand here in the light of a sun that can never chase the chill away

The audiobook was a full cast (by which I mean distinct voices for everyone) and had cool sound effects and everything. It was beautiful.

It was awesome and spectacular and amazing. I seriously think this is one my new favorite audiobooks of all time. LOOOOOVVVEEEEE. At first I was like “What? Sound effects?” and wasn’t sure how I felt about it. But they were PERFECT. Like, seriously. They were great. And each and every narrator was SPECTACULAR at their particular character. Some were completely impartial, som were emotive. Some were very very good at sounding drunk.


since i will not send this, i also feel it is my duty to inform you that almost six months on I think I still love you and that makes me sad becaue love shouldn’t feel this way. is like getting kicked in the stomach every time i think of you and it makes me want to roll my face across this keyboardbiu;///ubEWdcfhugiov’byhi;.//////-=‘-0i9juh8ygtfdcsaazs34defg7uefg7u8hi9o0p8hi9o0p-[[09ju8dcsaazs34d9o0p-[[09.

There were Some Serious Themes throughout. It was beautiful.

I’m not normally one to really reflect on the themes, but in this one … Well, it was hard not to. So many comments were made about energy transforming, and cycles happening in the universe. It was so poetic and brilliant. And, honestly, I think it was some of these really reflective moments that punched me in the gut with their feels more than anything else.

The glow flares bright—bright as the billion-year-old light around us. Bright as a sun.

Almost every particle in the universe was once part of a star.

First, hydrogen condensing and collapsing, bringing radiance to the void.

Furnaces burning bright, then fading, giving all they had left back into the cosmos.

Carbon and oxygen. Iron and gold.

Vast clouds swirling with their own gravity. Coalescing and disintegrating.

Generation to generation.

The remnants of stellar alchemy, stirring into life, then consciousness.

Crawling from the oceans. Taking to the skies.

And from there, back to the stars that birthed them.

A perfect circle.

If you haven’t read Illuminae yet, you should. Right now.

Seriously, go on. Get going!

Rating Report
Writing Style
  • Greg Hill

    I loved the format, and Kady was awesome. 🙂 And it is an accomplishment when you can do a good romance without ever actually having either of their perspectives! I didn’t like AIDEN as much as some did, but other than that I agree with every thing you said.

    I do think it would be good as audio. Glad you liked it!

    • Michelle

      I didn’t like AIDEN like “OOOH, AIDEN!” But I really liked the IDEA behind AIDEN. And I thought his role was very well executed 🙂 It was PHENOMENAL as an audiobook! Such a unique piece of writing AND reading 😉

  • This one is on my TBR and after this review I feel like I should be moving it up and making space in my more immediate schedule… It sounds SO good!

    I don’t really do audio, but there are times when I wish I did and after reading this review you’ve made this one of those times. I’m sure I’d find the sound effects a bit strange but the way you’ve explained them sounds so good!

    Great review!

    • Michelle

      Haha, you should definitely move this one up! I DID find the sound effects a bit strange at first, but by the end (where it really counted) they really did help pull me in even more. This one reminded me very much of the radio plays I used to love as a kid and some podcasts I’ve enjoyed more recently.

  • Great review, Michelle! I agree with everything you mentioned — the format was so good and unique (and indeed, I hear the audiobook is amazing!) and it made for really quick reading. All the decorative pages were beautiful — and even more so in Gemina, with Marie Lu’s illustrations. Aside from that, the writing was stellar. I loved Kady’s badassness and the romance and AIDAN and and and… EVERYTHING. It was mind-blowing.

    • Michelle

      Ahh, you make me want to reread it with the physical book! (Normally that goes the other way, lol). I admit I had no idea what to read/listen to next after finishing this one. Worst book hangover I’ve had in a LONG time!

  • I am not quite sure if the unusual format will work for me, but I do think it sounds very original to write a book that way. It does sound very impressive if you can love the characters and their romance so much without even getting their perspective. Oh and a full cast audiobook sounds fun, I don’t think many audiobooks have that. Great review! You definitely made me curious about this book.

    • Michelle

      Thanks! You might give it a try! It was definitely weird, and at first I struggled with it a little bit. But it really did WORK. Remarkably well. 😀