REVIEW: Illuminae (The Illuminae Files #1) by Amie Kaufman & Jay Kristoff

Genre: YA Science Fiction
Pages: 599 (hardcover)
Reading Level: Easy / Intermediate
Rating: 5 / 5

Summary from Goodreads

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.

BRIEFING NOTE: Told through a fascinating dossier of hacked documents—including emails, schematics, military files, IMs, medical reports, interviews, and more—Illuminae is the first book in a heart-stopping, high-octane trilogy about lives interrupted, the price of truth, and the courage of everyday heroes.

Illuminae proves that a book should not be judged by its age recommendation. That’s right sister-in-law, I’m talking to you.

Goodreads has it tagged as young adult and Common Sense Media puts the recommended age at 14. These designations would eliminate it as a possible read for some people; if you are one of those, I urge you to reconsider. I laughed. I almost cried. I simply did not want to put this book down.

Foremost, Illuminae is indeed science fiction, combining storylines and details that may be reminiscent of a few movies – an artificial intelligence run amuck (2001: A Space Odyssey), a virus that results in murderous rage (28 Days Later) and space Marines (Starship Troopers). Throw in an evil corporation more concerned with profits than lives and you’ve got yourself a great science fiction novel.

What you should probably know before allowing your child to read this book:

1. There is a lot of cussing. And I do mean a lot. The book is formatted into reports – transcripts, memos, etc. – and the cussing is redacted, but it’s pretty obvious what is being said.

2. There is graphic violence. Keep in mind that the virus results in a murderous rage that spares no one, even children. In one scene, a child drags a human heart behind her. The book is 599 pages long and an overwhelming majority does not contain such graphic scenes, but be warned – they’re in there.

3. There is a fair amount of sexual innuendo. It’s mostly talk of the ‘your sister just left my room’ nature.

One thing the reader should also know is that this book is organized as an incident file; the entire text is a compilation of messaging conversations, after action reports, proposals, transcripts – video footage, audio – and more. Text differs in size, color, font and shape. For example, in one display, the text is organized as spokes of a wheel. Most of it isn’t as artistic as the wheel spokes, but the format is quite diverse.

After reading all this, you may think Illuminae will be an entertaining read, but not necessarily an intellectual one, with many opportunities for discussion. If so, you’d be mistaken. In addition, the writing, at times, is absolutely beautiful –

They are beyond me. These humans. With their brief lives and their tiny dreams and their hopes that seem fragile as glass. Until you see them by starlight, that is (p548).

When the light that kisses the back of her eyes was birthed, her ancestors were not yet born. How many human lives have ended in the time it took that light to reach her (p571).

Does the fact that humans have such a relatively short life span make their lives and experiences more beautiful, meaningful? What is the soul? How is a soul acquired? Is a soul a product of evolution? If so, what is necessary for a soul to develop? Or is the soul a divine gift? Stephen Hawkings told the BBC that “[t]he development of full artificial intelligence could spell the end of the human race.” Do you agree? If so, why? Has technology advanced faster than technological ethics? Should they advance at the same rate? What are the possible consequences of technological ethics significantly lagging behind technology?

I live for this stuff!

These philosophical questions are just the beginning. I haven’t even touched upon questions regarding corporations, human presence on other planets and specific events in the book. Believe me, besides being a captivating read, Illuminae is a great book for all kinds of discussion – from easy and entertaining to super deep and meaningful.

The only thing I regret about this series is that it is not over, which sounds like a great thing, but means I cannot binge read. Rats.

IMPORTANT NOTE: If you would like to die in the third book, enter the following promotion. Huh. Never thought I would say that sentence. Anyway, it ends May 1. Go to for more information. Seriously, don’t procrastinate. How many opportunities do you get to die in a book?

Review by Christina Galvez
April 22, 2017

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