silhouette photography of person

I’m trying something a little different with this post and am writing while I’m reading Illuminae, instead of waiting until I finish and then writing the post. There are so many half-written posts I have hanging out on my computer. Hopefully, this will make the difference, and you will end up seeing more posts!

To keep everyone on the same page, I’ve already read Illuminae. I listened to the audiobook while working at the Harold B. Lee Library shelving books. It was a dream job. I got to work with books all day and listen to books while I worked too! I remember liking this book because of the different feel and the plot twist that comes out of nowhere. And man, oh man, is this such a good plot twist. 

Disclosure: I am an Amazon affiliate. If you click on a link and decide to buy something, I will get pennies for referring you. This in no way changes the price for you. It just helps me make a bit for doing what I love.

A Different Kind of Book

person choosing document in folder
Someone flipping through a box of files

Right off the bat, this book is different from the typical novel. It is called the Illuminae Files for a reason. It is a multimedia collection of various materials and documents. This book is a collection of interviews, ship-wide memos, surveillance feed transcripts, and transcripts of conversations. Because of this really cool style, it doesn’t read like the typical novel. Some places read more like a screenplay, while other spots are more formal stuffy writing. I loved the feel of the story but I know it is hard to dive into for some readers. I’ve heard some people say that it is hard for them to really get into the story, and my advice is to get ahold of the audiobook. Listening to Illuminae the first time made the story similar to a television show that jumps around showing you what is happening from different perspectives.

Short Synopsis of Illuminae

The book opens three hours after Ezra and Kady breakup. They work together as they attempt to escape from genocide by BeiTech Industries and get off-world. Ezra and Kady end up in different spaceships with limited communication. Even though they are in space, the danger doesn’t leave. Now, they are trying to outrun an enemy dreadnaught and get closer to civilization so BeiTech can be brought to justice. They just have to survive the nine-month journey to the jump station. But in nine months, everything can go wrong.

“Sure, the story kicks off with the deaths of thousands of people, but god forbid there be cussing in it, right?”

Amie Kaufman and Jay Kristoff, Illuminae

Language and Censoring

Choose your words tiles
Words are powerfully when artfully chosen.

This quote is from the very first page and talks about the language of the book. There is frequent language, but for censoring purposes, it has been beeped out. So when strong language occurs in the book, it appears as a black box. However, there are frequent uses of what I biblical swear words, including taking the Lord’s name in vain. These parts are not censored. I don’t know how I feel about the censoring within the book. Part of me is glad that I don’t have to read all of that language, but I still see a black box about every other page. Sometimes, multiple times within a conversation, depending on the individuals in the conversation. 

When I read it, this wasn’t a huge problem because my mind just skims right over the little black box. In the audiobook, it beeps out the language similar to a YouTube video or a television show. The hard part about listening was my brain tried to fill in the censored words. I didn’t have that problem while reading it this time and enjoyed it much more. 

What Your Words Say

the new york times newspaper
Newspaper with the Headline Defying Stereotypes

I know that the use of language was “just part of the character,” but I think some authors use this as an excuse and a crutch at times. The authors use foul language as a layer of the character and allow their speech to tell us about the individual. Instead, I prefer to learn more of their backstory or taking us into their motives. Not all teenagers use profanity. Not all military personnel use foul language and crass humor to communicate with their comrades. In Illuminae, I think the authors rely too much on these stereotypes. They let the stereotype dictate the character instead of creating a well-rounded individual we can connect with on a deeper level.

Connecting with the Characters of Illuminae

two person touching each others finger tips
Two people reaching out to each other and barely touching fingertips.

The two main characters are seventeen, but the one that uses more language is Ezra. We know he is seventeen, played sports in school, and is conscripted to help in their escape. But we don’t learn any more about him than that. The book is 602 pages, but we don’t know about Ezra’s back story. His relationship with Kady is supposedly a driving influence in much of the story but we have very few details about it. We know they argued and fought a lot. We hear about how Ezra had to work up the courage to kiss her the first time, but that’s it. The rest of Ezra’s personality and character hides behind rude humor and foul language. Could those things be part of his personality? Yes. Is that his entire personality? No. 

A Peek Inside Their Thoughts

Honestly, we get more a more in-depth look into the insane AI system, AIDAN, than we do into Kady or Ezra. This is one of the drawbacks of the formatting of this book. The book is made of facts and transcripts, and as a result, we don’t spend a lot of time in anyone’s head. We get glimpses into AIDAN because his thoughts were logged digitally. This lack of connection between ideas makes it hard to connect all of the dots as they happen in the book. Especially the timing of events. The dates are written on the files, but looking at a series of numbers isn’t as grounding as a narrator laying it out. They attempted to do that with the file notes, but I don’t think it worked. 

“He presses the triggers. And like roses in his hands, death blooms.”

― Jay Kristoff, Illuminae

My Opinion

silhouette of buildings with purple and pink fireworks display
Flashy fireworks exploding over a city.

I both like and dislike this book. I like the different format and a few of the story things they decided to do. Obviously, I thought it merited a reread because I remembered a few good things to outweigh the bad. But this time I was disappointed. The authors didn’t check all of my boxes for a good story. They delivered on initially interesting characters and a different setting. However, for me, they failed in developing the characters and developing their relationship. If those things did happen in the story, the reader wasn’t allowed in the loop. They got caught up in the cool elements they wanted to explore and forgot about the story. The flashy aspects took over the plot, and this book became more about the science fiction features than the characters. 

Story Element Flop in Illuminae

white and brown stone fragment
This is a failed attempt at pottery. Just like this book failed at its attempt to have good character development.

One thing that I look for in a good story is character development. Usually, the main character changes in some way due to the experiences they have in the book. The characters in Illuminae go through a ton! They live through mass genocide, then have to deal with the PTSD fall out combined with a lack of support group. Then, to top it off, they have to figure out how to make it through a bioweapon that drives people insane.

These are points of potential change and could have really altered the characters. The authors didn’t take advantage of these situations. Kady doesn’t really change from where we met her in her debriefing interview. Some may argue that she reconnected with Ezra, but their relationship hasn’t really deepened or developed. They just promised to try and not fight as much. 

“Part of being alive is having life change us. The people around us, the events we live through, all of them shape us. And that’s what I think you’re afraid of. Maybe not of dying. But of this you, the you you’ve become, ceasing to exist.”

― Amie Kaufman, Illuminae

Parent Guide

Illuminae is a book for older teens and adults. This book has a zombie apocalypse, mass genocide, and an insane AI holding thousands of people hostage. It is not a bedtime story you read as a family. There is also a lot of crude humor and suggestive language between a couple of characters. If this book was turned into a movie, and they left out the language, it would be rated R for violence. There are a few heart-wrenching moments that happen in Illuminae. These moments made me feel connected to the characters as they poured out their hearts, or new information came to light about the situation. However, the majority of the time, I didn’t have a strong connection to them. 

If you are into science fiction and end of the world survival books, this might be a good fit for you. I don’t really recommend it for the story or the unrealistic AI. However, if you are a huge fan of space science fiction and want to try something new, this could be a good book for you. Just make sure you are okay with the level of violence, language, and sexual innuendos before starting the book.

Recommendations

An individual reading a book, maybe your next book.

Illuminae isn’t a book for everyone, but other similar books are better for a larger audience. If you like the idea of a different type of layout, and an unreliable narrator, check out Monster by Walter Dean Myers. It is written like a movie script. For the entire book, you are trying to figure out if the main character, Steve, really is a murderer at only sixteen. Another good book to read is Maze Runner. It has similar elements to Illuminae, but it focuses more on the relationships, and changes in the characters because of their circumstances. Another is Ender’s Game. It packs a sci-fi punch. For more books, check out this post.

What did you think of the book? Do you think I was too harsh on the story? Let me know your thoughts in the comments below!

Happy Reading!

Emily