good morning, cyberspace!
It’s pretty common knowledge that your girl doesn’t exactly “DO” reviews. As a rule, they’re pretty stiff and informal and dry, and the mere thought of writing one makes me shudder. Ask me in person whether or not I liked a book–and whether or not you should read it–and I will literally slap you in the face with all of the pros and cons and beautiful, gory details about why a book is absolute PERFECTION. But here, staring at an empty screen. . .? Yeah. The words don’t exactly flow in the fangirl-gibberish that I’m typically used to.
But today, I am willing to shove all of my common misconceptions about review-writing aside for the sake of one specific book–a book which was so good and wonderful and perfect that I physically must get all these emotions off my chest, or it is possible that I may implode.
Today, I want to talk to you all about Illuminae. And, more specifically, why you seriously need to read this book.
THE BOOKISH BEAN (that’s me) REVIEWS: ILLUMINAE by Amie Kaufman and Jay Kristoff
I have not read a single book since January. Wanna know why? Huh? Do ya? WELL IT IS BECAUSE OF THIS BOOK RIGHT HERE, FOLKS. I read Illuminae at the very very end of January–finished it just as the 31st was closing out, in fact–and I suffered a book hangover so severe that I have been literally incapable of picking up another book since.
(this statement, of course, will soon turn into a lie, but I digress)
Now, I should have known that I would fall irrevocably in love with this story. On the one hand, it’s a dark, twisty sci-fi with rogue AI’s and a mind-altering virus that is literally the creepiest thing I have ever seen. And on the other . . . I’ve had two friends screaming at me to read this book for the past five hundred years and counting.
A Quick Side-Note To Phoebe And Remi: You guys were right. This book is perfection. I was a fool for not believing you sooner.
BUT! In my defense, I did try reading this book about a year ago! I downloaded the ebook on my kindle, read about ten pages, and quickly realized that this was a book that must be enjoyed in its physical format. Don’t ask me how I knew this–I just knew it. There are some stories that are meant to be ebooks, and some that are meant to be held and cuddled and sniffed and stroked and loved dearly till the end of time.
Illuminae was one such book.
The search for a physical copy of Illuminae thus ensued. I scoured libraries and bookstores and the lonely bookshelf at the thrift shop where I work, but it wasn’t until last month that one actually fell into my possession, thanks to my dearest friend, Phoebe. I’m not sure what I did to deserve such a wonderful friend, but one day a package arrived on my doorstep, and within it–nestled amongst treasures that will forever make my heart squish with incandescent happiness–was an annotated copy of Illuminae.
Now, one could argue that my love for Illuminae stems from the fact that it was gifted to me by one of my closest friends and writing buddies. One could say that the only reason I love it as much as I do is because it will now forever remind me of Phoebe. And, to be fair, it will be difficult NOT to think of Phoebe whenever I read it. But despite the fact that this book now leaves a warm, happy, squishy feeling inside of my heart every time I think about it, I have to give the authors some credit here, as well: this book is exceptionally written, you guys. There is some swearing and some . . . odd scenes . . . but if you can look past that and focus on the story, you are in for one wild literary ride.
As with all books, I love to focus on the characters. If a story doesn’t have lovable characters that are easy for me to root for, chances are I’m not going to enjoy your book. Thankfully, however, Illuminae took all of my character hopes and dreams and checked every single box off with a big, fat YES!!!
First up you have KADY, who is a short little wildfire/hacker genius who will 1000% take you down with naught but her brain and a keyboard. I feel like Kady is one of those “big strong female heroines” everyone keeps on yakking about, but instead of her being unlikable or annoying for the sake of being strong, she still had a softness and sincerity about her that made it impossible NOT to root for her–especially when everything around her started going horribly awry, but I digress. . .
EZRA was another main character who you just couldn’t help but root for–all the way to the end. His love for Kady was so stinkin’ adorable, and while I’m DEFINITELY not someone to get all sappy and moon-eyed over romance in books . . . even I had to admit that this one had some admirable qualities.
(shhhh, this is a one-time thing, I can assure you.) Unfortunately for me, I was an absolute IDIOT and didn’t realize how much of a hold this idiot had on my heart until it was too late. Oops.
Of all the characters in this book, however, the one who really stole the show for me was AIDAN. A rogue AI who takes over the ship and causes mass murder for the sake of the few? << YES, PLEASE!!! Artificial Intelligence has always been a topic to intrigue me, and an Artificial Intelligence that breaches the gray space between good and evil is even more intriguing. AIDAN is like this psychotic murder machine of immense proportion. He is everywhere. He sees everything. HE CANNOT BE CONTROLLED. And while at first I was 100% ready to loathe him forever for all the horror he caused . . . I couldn’t help but fall in love with him by the end of the book? You just can’t not love him! He’s crazy and precious and needs love and affection and potentially some jail time.
And then there’s BYRON ZHANG. In every book, there is a character who isn’t exactly a main character, but a character you fall in love with nonetheless–and this dude right here was one of them. I’m not sure why I loved this character so much; maybe it was his relationship with Kady, or the fact that he reminded me of a weird mixture of my own Nate/that toy barn dude from Toy Story 2. But whatever it was, Byron weaseled his way into my heart and stuck there, and to this day I still can’t shake him. He did not deserve the end he got. Yes, I am still mad.
HOLY PLOT TWISTS, BATMAN, did this book have some serious stakes! I don’t feel like I can go into too much detail on this, since spoilers aren’t exactly what I’m trying to give away here, but trust me. If you’re a writer and you struggle with ramping up stakes and formulating plot twists that will leave your readers open-jawed and mind-numbed–such as me–then READ. THIS. BOOK. Seriously.
I’m a firm advocate of writers being avid readers, because the more you read, the more you’ll pick up on story rhythms and how different writers tackle different situations. And this book? This smol little chunk right here? It’s going to teach you so much about stakes, and how v i t a l they are to a good story. Ever since finishing this book, I’ve been trying to dissect it and figure out why it was such a soul-consuming read–why did I feel like I couldn’t breathe if I wasn’t reading? Why was I so consumed with the story and the characters and whether or not it was going to end well for my smol precious children?
The answer? STAKES. The authors of this novel knew exactly what they were doing when crafting their stakes, my friends. They cracked the code for creating difficult, seemingly impossible scenarios, and they executed it perfectly. So not only should you read this book for the sheer fact that it’s an amazing novel, but it can teach you so much about plot building, as well.
THINGS I DIDN’T LIKE
So you’re probably thinking, “Kenzie. You’re pretty much just screaming at us to read this book, no? Was there anything you didn’t like about it???”
The answer, of course, is yes! There’s always something I won’t like about a book–such is life–but, thankfully, there are very few things I did not enjoy about Illuminae:
- cussing. lots and lots of cussing. It was graciously blacked out (for whatever reason, I cannot fathom, but I am most thankful about it), but you can still tell what words were supposed to be in the blotted out lines. Still, it’s easier to skip a big black streak in the page than a full-blown cuss, so I shall take it and be content.
- . . .references. << I’m not going into much detail on this for my own sanity’s sake, but there’s a very particular scene which is virtually unnecessary, and kind of disgusting. But it IS easily skippable, so there’s that.
- and that’s about it! Did I not say that there was very few things I didn’t enjoy? I guess I should have said there were TWO things I did not enjoy. Oh well.
THINGS I LOVED!
Now let’s get to the good stuff! The random bits that I don’t really know where to fit anywhere else, but need to scream about. This part of the review might get a little spoilery (for all our non-hint-takers out there, HERE THERE BE SPOILERS. read at your own risk), a little bit rambly, and potentially a little too CAPS heavy, but we’re going to make it through this together. Are you ready? Let’s go:
- AIDAN. I know I’ve already mentioned him, but he needs to be mentioned again. And again. And again. Perhaps it’s a bad thing when your favorite character happens to be the very thing everyone fears–the big bad, as some say. The villain. The murder-machine. But I mean, come on!!! So what if he murdered the entire fleet/civilian cargo aboard a spaceship in the middle of the deep black? HE’S STILL A BIG OL’ SOFTY WHO I LOVE WITH MY WHOLE ENTIRE BEING. He’s crazy and psycho and manipulative, and this, my fellow writers, is how you write a compelling anti-hero!!! (also, apparently AIDAN is supposed to be genderless, which is all well and good, but I can’t help but read him as male in my mind? Ignore me and my randomness.)
- THE “DISEASE”. HOLY GUACAMOLE, PEASANTS! This book had a creep factor to it that I was NOT expecting. Throughout the entire story, there’s this whole ticking time bomb thing happening with a mysterious disease aboard one of the escaping vessels, and it just makes my weird little heart flutter with much excitement! Time bombs are ticking. Sickness is spreading.
People are going insane.It’s fantastic and wonderful and terrifying, and I am in love.
- AM I NOT MERCIFUL? << a.k.a. my new catchphrase.
- THE UNIQUE FORMAT. Kind of strange that the very thing that turned me against this story in the first place would later become one of my favorite aspects, but I digress. The way this book is written is seriously unique. It has diagrams and pictures and literally like five endless pages of faces (like actual, human faces?? where did they get all these faces?? i am scared for my life???) and it’s just…??? The design team was seriously epic on this one, folks. 10/10 recommend. (but make sure you have a physical copy. it makes all the difference, my friends.)
- EZRA AND KADY. I HATE ROMANCE, OKAY??? I will stab my pitchfork into the ground and declare this till the end of time. But I just. . .? ???? I kind of think these two are adorable? Kinda? Maybe?
DON’T LOOK AT ME.
- THE WRITING was also absolutely remarkable, I must say. You read some books and it’s like “eh, okay. I could probably do this, too
*cough maybe even better cough*“. But then you read something like Illuminae and you just sorta melt into a puddle of tears and ambiguous hopes because you will never–repeat: NEVER–write as beautifully as the authors of this particular book. (please note that by “you”, I actually mean “me”, because you are a beautiful little unicorn who can do literally anything you dream to, okay? okay. *pats head*) I’ve not been sucked into an author’s style this hard since reading The Lunar Chronicles like four years ago, so consider this the honest truth when I say I am S T O K E D to read Gemina! (now if only I could FIND Gemina…)
- THAT ENDING THOUGH. I’m not going to give any spoilers away in regards to the ending (because that would be #rude), but like!! THAT ENDING!!!! THAT TWIST!!! I’m not really sure why I didn’t see it coming–usually I can spot a plot twist from a mile away–but goodness gracious that ending was satisfying. I mean, it wasn’t, because now I’m literally dying to read the next book, but as far as endings go . . . this bean was appeased.
IN CONCLUSION. . .
. . .I would recommend this book to literally everyone on the entire planet and beyond. The writing is enchanting, the story is soul-gripping, and the unique way in which the story is told is sure to grab you by the collar and refuse to let you go until you’ve devoured every single page within 48 hours. (true story.) With all of this added together, I’m sure it comes to no one’s surprise that I rate Illuminae a stunning FIVE STARS. There are very few books that I would literally hurl in your face if you asked me for a book recommendation, but this, my dearest beans, is definitely one of them.
TALK TO ME, PEASANTS!
What book has left you on your most recent bookish withdrawal? (though annoying, I find that book withdrawals typically come from reading a book that was TOO good, so hit me up with all of your bookish recommendations! I want to read ALL OF THE GOOD BOOKS!) What book are you currently reading? Have you ever read a book that you wish you could fling in someone’s face and demand they read it? Have you ever been given an annotated copy of a book by a dear friend? Or, vice versa, have you ever GIVEN an annotated book to a friend? (this is something I want to do now. I know how special it is to receive a book like this, and now I want to do it for someone else!!!) and, most importantly. . .
HAVE YOU EVER READ ILLUMINAE???
I absolutely MUST know if you’ve read this book. We must squeal together in the comments below!
As always, until next time. . .