Book Review: ILLUMINAE by Amie Kaufman and Jay Kristoff

Title in front of blurred fire

Genre: Sci-Fi Age Range: YA Star Rating: 3.5 stars Series: Yes – first book



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.

Synopsis taken from Goodreads. Add to your shelves here.


I had no intentions of reading this book. The Goodreads blurb (above) has way more romance focus than I like in YA (as it usually means stupid angst because no one’s talking). Not to mention I’d seen the fandom behave atrociously over the Goldsboro special edition of AURORA RISING and the pre-order incentive of MEMENTO. Yeah, things like that put me off books – I don’t want to be associated with terrible fandoms thank you very much.

However, my friend Beth had been raving about this book, so I thought I might as well give it a try.

I was hooked from the start from the premise. I races through this (brick of a) book. Seriously, for an average size book, it weighs a lot. It did help that there are some pages you just skip (a page of ‘I’m sorry’ in the shape of a rose? Four pages of names of the dead – full of Easter Eggs, if you’re willing to look). There’s also far less text per page than in a regular book, due to formatting. If anyone’s intimidated by the length (600 pages, but as wide as a 400 page book), don’t be. It’s probably only 300 pages in normal formatting.

The book is told through a collection of ‘reports’ and ‘chats’, as well as… well, whatever the ‘action’ pages can be described as (other than slightly difficult to read as you move the book to follow these lines of text). It’s clever, but I wish someone had told me about it before because it was a shock. It’s also a technique that is very close to the line between clever and gimmicky, and I’m not sure which side of that line it’s on.

There were times when I thought the layouts were very clever, but the a series of chats (or AIDAN’s core processing logs) really deprives you of sensory details. Smells, sounds. Even a description of the main characters would be nice (there are transcriptions, from black and white cameras so all I know is that Kady is small and dark haired). And trying to follow the action through interestingly arranged pages (this was when the book felt the most gimmicky and frustrating) or AIDAN’s logs – full of <error> and <fake technical input> really pulled me out the story.

It also felt less emotional to me. As it’s largely chats or logs, emotions are usually stated outright (I’m scared). There’s so little showing – and then it’s done through sub-text which means I was often second guessing it.

The premise, however, is very interesting – plague on ships, while trying to escape those responsible with a damaged, psycho AI. The story was full of twists and turns, and very human reactions. Their decisions are so human – so flawed and scared and yet sometimes very brave. Kaufman and Kristoff have captured the essence of humanity in a crisis amazingly.

I’m really not sure why the book is called ILLUMINAE. It’s mentioned maybe three times – at the very beginning and the very end, as the group who’s retrieved all the files. For the rest of the book, it holds no significance. Yeah, sure it probably comes from ‘to illuminate’ as in reveal the truth, but it felt like a name tacked on later to be eye-catching. I like my titles to mean something in the main story, but this didn’t.

Will I read the later books? Maybe. The premise and writing did hook me for most of the book, and I’d be interested to see how it continues.

Read my reviews of other books by Jay Kristoff and Amie Kaufman:

As a pair:

The Aurora Cycle:

Jay Kristoff:



After talking to some other bloggers, it was suggested these comments might be spoilers, so I’m adding them below and expanding upon them.

The stakes were so high at one point with a massive emotional blow when Ezra is revealed to have died much earlier, and AIDAN’s been toying with Kady. I thought that move was so bold, but then it was all undercut at the end because he’s actually not dead – AIDAN was lying.

I was really surprised – but pleased – that it looked like Kady was being killed off. Not because I hated her, but so few authors kill off their main characters and I love the bold jump when someone does.

But then they saved her, despite Kady having received acute radiation poisoning, described as fatal within two weeks (which means there is no way to stop it). And she isn’t rescued for a few days (I think). How did they save her? An injection. I’m sorry, even with centuries-advanced tech, this is ludicrous. If they can do this, why can’t they cure the plague/bio-weapon?

Unfortunately, the combination of these things means I’m now going into the next books in the series without a shadow of doubt that the main characters are going to survive – which will undercut all stakes. If they get injured, well, they have a magic medicine, don’t they? They can cure radiation sickness, so they cure anything.

Read my reviews of other books by Amie Kaufman and Jay Kristoff:

Written together:

The Iluminae files (this series):

The Aurora Cycle:

Written by Jay Kristoff:

The Nevernight Chronicles:

By Amie Kaufman and Meagan Spooner:

The Other Side of the Sky:

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