Review: Illuminae by Jay Kristoff and Amie Kaufman

I have heard nothing but good things about this book. Seriously, I’ve not seen one even slightly negative review of Illuminae. Everybody has read it, it’s plastered over every bookseller’s window and I’d be amazed if they’re not in discussions about a movie version right now. So, naturally, it was the first book I plucked from the library shelves when I was prancing around my new library in awe-struck delirium. So I finally jumped on the bandwagon and read it, and I… I did not love it.

Plot summary: 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.

lluminae is told using an unbelievable array of different documnts, allegedly put together for an unnamed organisation to review some time after the incidents discussed. There are instant messaging transcripts, CCTV narratives, medical reports, medical files, and god knows what else. It really is very inventive and they’re all pictured. It’s not just the content that has been retyped into a Word document – the picture of the psychiatric report (for example) has actually been recreated in the book. There are also little ‘paperclipped’ notes from the person that collated all the data, which forms a minor additional narrative.

If I have to turn a book on its side to read it, chances are we’re not going to get along.

All the story is in this format, so it’s up to you to discern the story from this variety of documents. The amount of effort that must have gone into it is astounding but it becomes very wearing after a while. The information is contained in a different place on each page, and a large amount of space is taken up with borders, images, etc. Pulling the plot out of it is a lot of effort. Additionally, due to the premise (i.e. that these are all pre-existing documents pulled from data files etc), I imagine it was very difficult for the authors to really provide the background information. I mean, I can see where they tried, but I don’t feel like it worked at all.

I really struggled to keep track of who was on which ship, and which ship was the ‘bad’ ship, and who had attacked who… I kept having to sort-of squint and flick back to try and figure it out. I admit that by this point I had lost interest which didn’t really help, but then not being able to keep it straight probably added to the absence of interest in the first place.

On being shouted at over Thai food.

By about half way through, I gave up and sent it back to the library, unfinished. The teenagers had become twee and annoying, I didn’t know what was going on and the ‘quirky’ pages were giving me a headache. Also, and don’t start, but the writing is a bit dull? That’s the downside of telling a story through military documents, I suppose.

I made the mistake of mentioning this to Charlotte over lunch and she nearly threw her chicken at me. She nodded knowingly at all the faults I described, agreed with me and then adamantly insisted that it got better. I wasn’t convinced so she tied and gave me a three word spoiler that absolutely blew my mind. It was such a great twist and I knew I definitely had to get it back from the library and read the rest of the book.

Naturally the library didn’t have it back in for another six weeks. When I actually got it though, I grabbed it and carried on from where I left off.

A small improvement but decidedly unconvinced by the Not-Twist.

I admit that I did like it more during the second half, but I still didn’t pass over the line into actual likingness. I could follow the plot more but mostly because the narrative became confined to one ship. The format of the book still irritates me. I have a new rule of thumb – if I have to turn a book on its side to read it, we’re probably not going to get along. But the problem was that I still didn’t care. The characters were still flat and the writing was still dull. The ‘black’ section towards the end, where Kady grapples with attempting to save the ship, was pretty good. It was written well and it was very dramatic, to the point where I was actually sort-of interested.

The twist was great and it completely threw me. It was so brave, and such a surprise. I definitely wouldn’t have seen it coming. BUT THEN THEY REELED IT BACK. Any impressment (shut up, that’s a word) I had was just yanked back. You don’t get to have a plot twist that mind-blowing and have them wake up ‘and it was all a dream.’ That’s not what happened, obviously, but it may as well have. It just cheapens what could have saved this book.

Did you like Illuminae? Have you read the second book? If so, do I need to read it or should I steer clear?


  1. Ellie Warren says:

    Don’t read the second book Hanna, it’s like the first but with even worse typing skills from one of the characters. I say this as someone who loves it, but I can understand it being irritating if the format doesn’t work for you. I kind just fell into it, and it was the most gripping thing I have read in a long time. I also kind of appreciate the efforts it makes to have the chats written like actual people would type, which I suppose is kind of dull prose. :’D

    1. Hanna @ Booking in Heels says:

      Ah! Thanks Ellie, that’s super helpful. I wasn’t sure because everybody seems to love it but then, as you say, the format really doesn’t work for me.

      I’m not usually thrown off by such things (I really liked Sleeping Giants, which is mostly interview format), but this just seemed too far down the line!

  2. Great review! I have not read the book yet. I have seen more mixed reviews now, so I am not in a hurry anymore.

    1. Hanna @ Booking in Heels says:

      I haven’t seen many negative/mixed reviews at all, so it’s a relief to hear that you have!!!

      It’s a shame, because I was really looking forward to reading it.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *