I did a video review for this book, which you can find here.
When you love a book, you love a book and this was one of them. Almost as soon as I started reading this book I knew I was going to like it. I was caught up in the story. Maybe it was partially because I was really craving some science fiction. Maybe because it triggered me in ways that brought back the good feelings of Battlestar Galactica. Maybe it was because I was amused by the interesting storytelling format that was used. Likely, it was a combination of all three with some other things thrown in, but at the end of the day, I ended up loving this book.
Let’s get the most obvious thing out of the way. This is not a standard prose novel. Instead it is an epistolary novel. What made it even more interesting was that aside from a few diary entries the pieces that we read were less personal. Sure, there were chat sessions and emails that kind of got personal, but having been a person who grew up on AIM I know that they can also be just as cryptic. There is subtext and underlying jokes that even the most banal statement can contain. There were no explanations for that. We were simply drug through them. Some of my favorite entries of this sort were the transcripts of video feeds that had the quite amusing personality of the transcriber infused. He was another entertaining character that delievered after the fact observations.
However, some of my favorite entries were from AIDAN. As a character, AIDAN was fleshed out as could be. You could sense her motivations (and yes, I think of her as a she despite the name). Everything she did was calculated and precise. Yet, there was always this sense of potential danger because she was breaking. You couldn’t trust her even though you wanted to even though you knew you shouldn’t. AIDAN’s presence made everything more complicated, but things really got interesting when you saw how she could learn. In many ways AIDAN made the novel for me. She tied it together and brought a sense of grey morality to a book that already focused on a character who was as extremely morally gray.
In fact, that was one of the things that I loved the most about Kady. Nothing was clean cut with her. She had her own sense of right and wrong and was willing to do anything to achieve that. I quite enjoyed seeing her learn and get better at what she did. More importantly, she kept me locked in with the story. Early on, I wanted to just know what was going on with her. But as I started to find out I was concerned with where her curiosities might take her. The emotional journey that she was taken on was rather interesting as well as she struggled to reconcile what was going to happen.
Then there was Ezra. As much as I want to say he was one of the protagonists, he wasn’t. He was a main character. One who’s actions and motivations greatly effected the plot. However, his actions served more as a catalyst to Kady. If we didn’t get to know Ezra as much as we did it wouldn’t have worked. Thankfully, we were presented with this guy who really was the definition of a good guy. Behind his actions were reasons. As the book went on we learned more about the reasons that drove him and Kady apart despite them actually being in love. Some of the events in the story sent me on a rollercoaster because between the two characters Ezra was the one who stole my heart (though I admire Kady like no one else in the book).
The only problem that I had was that because of the epistolary style, you never really got to get in depth in the characters heads. As a result, it can be a little distancing. However, over time I felt like I knew these characters not in a way that you do with novels where you know their every thought. Instead, it made them feel more like real people and that’s a feeling I don’t often get.
I mentioned that this book gave me Battlestar Galactica feels and even now that is the best description I can think of. Illuminae is not a light story, but it doesn’t quite get as gritty as BSG. That said the sense that these people are fleeing for their lives on the run through space is felt. The peril that these people are in is felt. There’s a constantly ticking clock present that never lets you forget that even when things are going wrong within their ships, they are still being pursued. Stopping will mean their death. You feel that tension as it carries throughout, especially since you don’t know exactly what Beitech wants.
This was definitely one of my favorite books this year. It just hit me in the right places.