Amie Kaufman and Jay Kristoff, Illuminae (The Illuminae Files #1), Allen & Unwin, Nov 2015, 608pp., $19.99 (pbk), ISBN: 9781760113803
The year 2575. Kerenza – illegal mining colony somewhere on the fringe of the universe. Kady Grant is in class dreaming up nasty things to say to her now ex, Ezra Mason, when her world starts to explode around her. Kerenza is being invaded by BeiTech Industries, instigating an intergalactic war. Somehow the teens make it to the evacuating fleet and onto separate ships. With the mighty dreadnought Lincoln bearing down on them, the fleet’s AI gone awry and a deadly virus spreading, there is more on their minds than a lover’s tiff. There is something the Commanders are hiding and Kady is determined to uncover the truth. Can a 17 year old hacker save the fleet and rescue Ezra?
This is not your average sci-fi book. The paperback has a tactile cover – it looks and feels like a document has been smeared with blood, then has had parts wiped away like a lottery scratchie, showing the title, authors and intriguing bits of an incident report. A lot of the pages are black. On flicking through, there are graphics and computer generated art. The reader learns about the characters and events via a collection of files including emails, IM chat, blueprints, reports, maps, surveillance footage and data from the AI core. See the Entertainment Weekly interview with the authors for a gif of the cover and a few pages of the book, which shows how this actually looks on the page.
I’m not a huge science fiction fan and found the files somewhat dense at the beginning but as I started piecing together the story, sussing out the main characters, the tension and pace continued to build until I was totally immersed in Kady’s world. The characters are well-realised and believable. Kady is smart, sassy and courageous. I was along for the ride, my heart in my mouth all the way.
The story is incredibly well-written. Over 600 pages but every word deserves to be there. I love the language, especially the voice of AIDEN, the artificial intelligence. He is an all-seeing narrator – very creepy (but I even grew fond of him by the end). His thoughts are laid out like verse and thick with poetic imagery. Scattered throughout, words are used as images, which creates an extra dimension to the experience. For example, at one point the reader must rotate the book to read the strings of text – I felt like I was aboard the Cyclone fighter, being drawn into a vortex. There are many references to classic writers and artists, which I also loved (look out for Munch).
As the heart-stopping drama hurtled towards the climax, I found I wanted to savour every turn of the page, awaiting more delicious surprises. Fast-paced with lots of explosions, violent deaths and censored profanity, YA readers will enjoy this tale of love and survival. The first in a trilogy, there is more on the way with Gemina coming in October 2016. Highly recommended.
Reviewed by Sharon Seymour