Cover of Illuminae, featuring the title and various other words and phrases

About the Book

Title: Illuminae (The Illuminae Files #1)
Published: 2015
Series: The Illuminae Files
Swoonworthy Scale: 6

Cover Story: Layers
BFF Charm: Yay
Talky Talk: Dossier
Bonus Factors: Science Fiction, Unique Design
Factor: Series Starter
Relationship Status: Keep in Touch (I Mean It)

Content Warning: The disease that plays a part in Illuminae turns people into psychopaths who murder each other for fun. The depiction of the disease’s effects are brutal and often disturbing, but, thankfully, it never seemed like Kaufman and Kristoff included it purely for shock value.

Cover Story: Layers

The flat image above, although quite cool with its clouds (flames?) and bits of random text peeking through, does the hardcover version of this book no favors.

The dust jacket is actually see-through in parts and semi-transparent in others. And the hardcover is covered in bits of text and annotations that speak greatly to the content within.

See what I mean?

The Deal:

For close to 18 years, Kady lived a pretty normal life at the mining colony of Kerenza. Although the colony was illegal, it was in a part of the universe that no one really bothered with. Until the day Kady broke up with her boyfriend, Ezra, and all hell broke loose.*

That day, a rival mining corporation finally took notice of Kerenza, and mounted a vicious attack from space. Kady and many of her fellow colonists made it off the planet onto a trio of spaceships, but that didn’t mean that they made it out of danger. One of the attacking vessels is in hot pursuit, there’s a distinct possibility that the artificial intelligence running one of the ships might be going crazy, an unknown disease is causing people to go psychotic, and Kady has to reach out to Ezra to help her figure out what’s going on. She’s not quite sure which of the problems is the worst one.

*The breakup and the hell breaking loose are in no way connected; they just happened to occur on the same day.

BFF Charm: Yay

Yay BFF Charm

At first, Kady is abrasive. She’s got a lot of valid excuses, however; she’s separated from her family, she’s being forced into group therapy, and she’s being tested for possible conscription into military service “for the greater good.” Oh, and her world literally blew up around her. A lesser person might let all of these terrible events knock her down. But Kady is too strong (or perhaps too stubborn) to give in. Instead, she takes the skills she already had and combines that with her training (which handily happens to be in computer hacking) and sets out to figure out what’s going on for herself. Although I don’t envy her position, I envy her backbone and insane strength in the face of adversity.

I also highly appreciate Kady’s sense of snark.

Swoonworthy Scale: 6

A small portion of people find their true loves while they’re teenagers, but even those who do don’t always have completely smooth relationships. Such is the case with Kady and Ezra, who are broken up at the start of Illuminae. Tense times tend to bring people together, though. And teenagers are especially fickle when it comes to sticking to their decisions.

Talky Talk: Dossier

I stole this term from Illuminae’s blurb, but it’s highly accurate. Instead of having one chronological narrative, Kady’s story is told in bits and pieces, through security reports, journal entries, emails, chat histories, etc. It might be because of this format, but never did it feel like Illuminae had been written by two separate people. Amie Kaufman and Jay Kristoff obviously spent a lot of time working closely together on all that went into this novel.

That said, Illuminae isn’t a book for the faint of heart. Kaufman and Kristoff pull no punches when it comes to describing the effects of the horrifying plague—and it is nasty—or what happens when a human is blown out into space without a spacesuit. They also have great skill at creating realistic characters, even when one of said realistic characters is an AI that’s slowly losing it. But the intensity makes the story, which is definitely science fiction, all that more intriguing. And even relatable, in the sense that the way the humans in the various situations react seems all too accurate.

Bonus Factor: Science Fiction

A Star Wars robot sits among dirty machine parts

Some books that seem like science fiction on the surface fall into a different category by the end of the story. That’s not always a bad thing, but as someone who enjoys straight-up science fiction, it’s nice to read a book that fits squarely into the genre. (As much as anything falls “squarely” into any genre, of course.)

Bonus Factor: Unique Design

Illuminae is a fun read in more ways than just plot (see Cover Story, above). The various piece parts that make up the story (see Talky Talk, above) make it a physically engaging read; it’s a rare occasion that you literally have to rotate a book to read certain pages.

Factor: Series Starter

Stack of YA book series

Somewhat surprisingly, Illuminae ends on a positive note, rather than a massive cliffhanger, which I was sort of expecting as the plot unfolded. There are loose ends, and I’m not sure how many more books there are to come, but it’ll be interesting to see where Kaufman and Kristoff take this story next.

Relationship Status: Keep in Touch (I Mean It)

I don’t particularly want to be in your shoes, Book, but I am very glad to be able to read about them (i.e., your situation) from the safety and comfort of my couch, which is firmly planted in a plague-free zone on Earth. Do keep in touch, though; I’m really interested to see what happens next.

FTC Full Disclosure: I received a copy of this book from Knopf Books (and then bought myself one of the super awesome hardcovers), but got neither a private dance party with Tom Hiddleston nor money in exchange for this review. Illuminae is available now.

Mandy (she/her) is a manager at a tech company who lives in Austin, TX, with her husband, son, and dogs. She loves superheroes and pretty much any show or movie with “Star” in the name.