Review: Illuminae by Amie Kaufman & Jay Kristoff

Rating: 5 stars
Pub Date: October 20, 2015
Publisher: Knopf Book for Young Readers
Genre: young adult science fiction
(if general mind-f*ckery were a genre, tho, it'd be that)
Format/Source: arc/publisher & hardcover/Amazon

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.

What.... what in the hell did I just read? Seriously. If it is possible to have PTSD from reading a book, that might be a close description of my feelings after closing Illuminae. Above, you might notice I have stated that Illuminae's genre should actual be mind f*ckery and below, Jay's bio calls it a "YA Sci-Fi... thing." Both of these are accurate. Illuminae provides its readers with a wholly unique yet ultimately traumatic experience, but as one of my friends said to me while I was live-tweeting my anguish (much to the amusement of everyone):


The fancy-ass term for Illuminae's format is an epistolary novel, which means that instead of typical prose, Illuminae's narrative is told through a series of documents that includes emails, IMs, analyzed security footage, computer code, military documents, memos, and schematics. Also other things that are way hard to describe (and spoilery). I'm a big fan of these kinds of novels because it's untraditional and gives books a unique and realistic feel to them. I don't know about you, but my life is not told through a narrator. It's told through texts, emails, DMs, Facebook statuses and comments, Twitter, etc. Oh, and real life interaction too, I suppose, but not with most of my book friends because they're long distance. And that's one of the challenges Kady and Ezra face in Illuminae: they're not in the same place.

The other interesting thing about this kind of format is that it very much reads like a play at times because you skip the he said/she said, descriptions, and actions. Normally I like a lot of description, but this time, everything was still so sensory and visual that I didn't miss it. If Illuminae were written like a traditional prose novel, it would have to be broken into two because there are two major acts, with one taking up the first 300 pages and the second the last half. There's very much a climax to the action in the first part, but during the resolution, another problem is introduced, which flows nicely into the second part. I also felt that each act focused specifically on the two main characters with Ezra primarily being present in the first part and Kady taking center stage in the second. Definitely very different from how I usually like my YA, but trust me: it works. The format also helped the story stay on a good pace. Normally a book this size will lag at some point, but the style pushes the pace as you go along.

Meanwhile the characters Jay and Amie created in this epic book of mind-f*ckery make it come alive. I think it says a lot about a cast when they're not even being narrated normally, yet they all manage to stand out as realistic, whole characters. Ezra and Kady absolutely hold their own as lead characters, despite a very sparkling supporting cast. While it's very sad their home planet Kerenza basically had an Alderaan moment, that catalyst allowed the two of them to become more than a couple of heartsick teens going through a breakup (well, their planet breaks up, but I'm talking about their relationship). Without the need for more crew members on their ships, Ezra and Kady never would have made use of the talents they discover and hone throughout the book, which was a really cool process to watch. And that supporting cast, I felt a real connection to the other characters:  from Jimmy, the lovable dudebro; Byron, the hygenically questionable computer guy; Winifred, the loyal marine; all the way to AIDAN, the Alexander's AI. Part of this is certainly thanks to the fact that there are first-hand documents and communication between many characters like the ships' respective captains, doctors, engineers, etc, but it's also a testament to the heart Amie and Jay put into the book and making each character feel real. Ezra talking about his dad and the first girl he kissed and Kady talking about her neighbor and the woman in her support group.... not all of those people receive actual in-person page time, but they still read like real people, not just names on a page. Even the six-page long actual list of names made me wonder what the characters were like behind the names.

I have to say, Illuminae is definitely one of the most fun books I've read this year. I thought it was enormously entertaining to find all the easter eggs Amie and Jay hid throughout the book. A lot of people may have noticed Leigh Bardugo gets a mention, but I think I recognized 14 people on the Copernicus list including young adult authors, agents, and one actor. Beth Revis and Marie Lu were harder to find, and then two other familiar names were on the cyclone pilot list. It was like YA Where's Waldo! Also, unexpectedly for a novel as emotional as this, I found myself laughing a LOT. Kady and Ezra have great chemistry in a sweet way, but they also busted each other's balls a bit, as did Ezra and Jimmy, Ezra and Dorien, Kady and Byron, Kady and AIDAN.... you get my point. I appreciate a book that makes me laugh even when I'm crying. I'll do an audio review later, but Ezra's drunk email is a sound bite I listen to every dang day, it's that funny.

And really, that's all I can say. I don't want to talk about the plot very much at all because SPOILERS, but Illuminae is one of the best books I've read all year, probably top 5 if I sat down and picked. It's one of those novels that manages to encompass just about every genre you can think of without pandering, and it will have you laughing, crying, and turning the pages faster and faster as you go along (again, that's literally part of the book's design). It's full of fun surprises and scary surprises and is just plain delightful to read. I HIGHLY recommend you read it and then tell everyone you know to read it.

If you would like a more coherent and much more fun review, check out my friend Nikki's very excellent and stylish review.

Book Links:

About Amie:
Amie Kaufman is the New York Times bestselling co-author of Illuminae (with Jay Kristoff) and These Broken Stars, This Shattered World, and Their Fractured Light (with Meagan Spooner.) She writes science fiction and fantasy for teens, and her favourite procrastination techniques involve chocolate, baking, sailing, excellent books and TV, plotting and executing overseas travel, and napping.

She lives in Melbourne, Australia with her husband, their rescue dog, and her considerable library. She is represented by Tracey Adams of Adams Literary.

Author Links (Amie):

About Jay:
Jay Kristoff is the award-winning author of The Lotus War trilogy, a Japanese-inspired steampunk fantasy. Part 3, Endsinger, is out now. He's also co-author of the upcoming Illuminae (with Amie Kaufman), a YA Sci-Fi... thing, to be released by Knopf/Random House in 2015, and Nevernight, the first part of a new fantasy trilogy kicking off in 2016.

Jay is 6’7 and has approximately 13380 days to live. He abides in Melbourne with his secret agent kung-fu assassin wife, and the world’s laziest Jack Russell.

He does not believe in happy endings.

Author Links (Jay):


  1. I'm only on page 30 and I'm already hooked!!!

  2. I'm only on page 30 and I'm already hooked!!!

  3. I found some of the easter eggs, but not all of them. I will have to go back through and keep an eye out for them. =] I really liked your review. I love this book so much and I can't wait for the second one!

    1. I definitely missed a bunch. I had no idea Laini Taylor was in it until I met Amie and Jay on tour and asked them about all the cameos. I have a feeling Illuminae will be a book that I learn more about every time I read it.

  4. I'm really struggling with this. I have a copy of the book -- bought it months ago -- but haven't read it yet. Now I'm kind of thinking of waiting to read until the series is finished. Your thoughts?

    1. I adore Illuminae, but I definitely understand wanting to wait until a series is all published before you read it. I'm doing that with Throne of Glass.

  5. I missed out on reading this last year, but now that Gemina is published I can go from one book to the next. I can't wait to join in the fun. i love that this author hooks readers immediately.

    1. Now we just have to wait another year for book three, and that wait is going to D E S T R O Y me!

  6. Loved the entire series, rly like ur review and insight too!!