Book review: Illuminae by Jay Kristoff and Amie Kaufman

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This review is long overdue. I admit, I have been putting off writing it as I had, and still have, very conflicted feelings about this book. Every booktuber I watched seemed to be madly in love with it. Its GoodReads ratio at the time of writing this post is 4.29 which a lot and much higher than some of my favourite books.

I will have to divide my review into part: what I liked and what I didn’t. Naturally, it is my opinion, and if you liked the book – good for you.

When I saw this book hauled by several booktubers after BAE, I got really excited as it seemed to be a very interestingly put together book. I was under impression that it is a stand alone novel, so imagine my surprise when I learned that it is book one in The Illiminae Files series. (It was not mentioned by any of the reviewers and I found it out from the summary on the inside of the jacket.)

I am not going to summarize the book for you but I am just going to say that this book turned out to be a bit of a disappointment for me.

No real spoilers ahead, unless you would prefer to know nothing about the book.

What I liked:

  • the format and the way the narrative is constructed which is the main and the best thing about this book – I have read books that incorporate lists, letters, emails, texts, etc in the narrative, but this is the first time this is a book constructed as a dossier/files and there is no traditional narration.
  • the cover (which is really part of the above point) and the dust jacket are the work of art.
  • an epic space ships battle which reminded me of Star Trek and Star Wars and I haven’t read any books like that in awhile.
  • the twist at the end made it worth pulling through the remaining 100 pages or so which were so boring.

What I disliked:

  • the plot is very simple; it can essentially be summarized in a paragraph and if it weren’t for the unique narrative that stretched the book to 599 pages (and that’s enormous for YA), the book would have been at least twice shorter.
  • there is little to no backstory to the relationship between Kady and Ezra, as the book starts with their break up, so it was really difficult for me to sympathize with their relationship. I basically felt nothing. Their “love you”s didn’t feel real.
  • once again due to the format of the book I felt that we were not given an opportunity to properly get to know the characters, and although it is not uncommon to learn things about characters through other characters’ perspective, I felt that we were not given enough to develop real attachment to them.
  • there is a lot of swearing in the book, that I have no problem with, but it is all blacked out or crossed out and it seriously was hurting my eyes and getting on my nerves. I do not enjoy excessive swearing, but I would have been okay with it, because all that crossing out was making my eyes cross.
  • deadly virus and bio weapons are cool plot devices, but I hate – and I mean that with a capital H – anything that has to do with zombies. I tend to avoid movies, tv shows, and books that have zombies in it, and finding out that in Illuminae this virus turns people into zombies became an unpleasant surprise for me. (I know, it is my personal preference, and I know a lot of people who love zombies, but I just can’t handle the topic! The thought of being overcome with a virus that turns you into a killing machine that is not possible to reason with disgusts me. I am interested in themes of people using their humanity in other ways.) I am quite glad that it was a book and I didn’t have to watch it on screen.
  • I felt that the narrative was a bit disjointed which made it hard for me to lose myself in the book. I tried. I honestly did. But I kept being distracted by the form.
  • I felt that the unique form of the book was taking my attention from the plot, and at times it felt as if I am reading a graphic novel.
  • The ending had a great twist, but what led to it, and some decisions and actions of the characters, as well as some plot turns felt a bit flat to me, a bit undeveloped (but once again it is hard to expect depth and development in the book that barely has any text in it).

As you can see, I have more things that I didn’t like about this book (which is basically most of the plot) than what I liked (which is the format of the book). If I could give a separate rating, I’d rate plot as 3 stars and the format as 5 stars. I still don’t know what to do with the overall rating as I enjoyed the book but it disappointed me in several ways (I am quite glad I got it from the library and didn’t buy it). I am conflicted as to what I should put for it on GoodReads, as 3 stars is not fair and 4 stars is way too high (I think GoodReads should have half stars – it is so hard to rate books there!).

This book would definitely appeal to reads who haven’t read good classic sci-fi novels and are new to the genre. It would also appeal to those who have never read a book that incorporates other media (photos, lists, emails, etc). It definitely deserves a read at least for the novelty’s sake.

But if you are like me, who both prefers fleshed out narrative and hates zombies, pick up something else.

Will I be reading more books in the series? Maybe, when they become available at my library. They won’t be high on my reading list though.

Overall rating: 3.5 stars

One Comment

  1. It seems like you should leave a 3 star on Goodreads haha. After all, it technically DOES mean “I liked it”. Anyway, it seems like the thing you like best about the book (the format) contributes to what you disliked most! (The narration, no backstory, etc) So sorry this one didn’t work out for you. Hope your next read is better!

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