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Illuminae by Amie Kaufman and Jay Kristoff ARC {3 Stars}

Illuminae by Amie Kaufman and Jay Kristoff is the first in a new YA sci-fi trilogy that takes a highly unconventional approach to storytelling. Illuminae is a dossier on troubling events and therefore is filled with interviews, artistic renditions of ships and battles, and some interesting files taken from the main computer. While the storytelling approach was certainly original, it made it difficult for me to connect with the characters, and I found that the plot was actually a pretty typical sci-fi premise that I’ve read many times before.

Note: I received an advanced copy of Illuminae from the publisher. Some things may have changed in the final version.

Illuminae by Amie Kaufman and Jay Kristoff ARC {3 Stars}

Illuminae by Amie Kaufman, Jay Kristoff (The Illuminae Files #1)
Published by Knopf on Oct. 20th, 2015
Genres: Sci-fi, YA
Page Length: 608 pages
How I got my copy: Publisher
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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.

3 Stars


  • The thing you’ll probably notice first about Illuminae is its interesting formatting. Even the cover reveals blacked-out words, which continues throughout the book, as well as a lot of creative ways to convey information. There are chat logs, analyses of video surveillance, and a whole lot more. While Illuminae has a hefty page count, a number of those pages have only a few sentences on them!
  • Illuminae is really a beautiful art piece wrapped around a story. I was at times more interested in how the text was formatted to give such a strong sense of motion than what the text actually said. If you enjoy artistic approaches to stories, you’ll probably love it.
  • The sci-fi plot gets pretty darn creepy in the middle as we’re trying to figure out what is going on. At times I was thinking maybe I shouldn’t be reading Illuminae on an airplane, but I just had to know what was happening!
  • You will almost certainly not be able to guess where Illuminae is going. It has some epic plot twists that made me want to go back and read the whole thing again to be able to see them coming ;-).
  • I really appreciated the subtle gender equality in Illuminae. The heroine is the computer geek, there are equal numbers of female military leaders and tech personal as male, and on top of all that, there are a couple of subtle references to “his husband” that made it clear that sexual orientation wasn’t a big deal in this culture, yey!


  • I kept waiting for Illuminae to really blow me out of the water with the actual story and found by the end that I just wasn’t impressed. It felt like a story that I’ve read a number of times in adult sci-fi already that just happened to be wrapped up in very pretty packaging.
  • While some of those artistic pages are cool to look at, it was pretty tricky to actually read the text because of the effects. If you’re someone who likes to read every single word, you’ll be having some problems. It’s also amusing to be in a public space and be twisting your book around ;-).
  • The romance in Illuminae really didn’t work for me. I’ve realized that I’m a person that really needs those physical interactions of holding hands etc to believe in a romance, and so since everything was via chat logs, I couldn’t see those subtle romantic interactions, just the sickly sweet pillow talk recorded for posterity.
  • Additionally, I had a hard time connecting with any of the characters because of the dossier-style storytelling. There were few opportunities to visualize the characters actually doing things instead of simply discussing over chat logs or interviews. This is obviously just a consequence of this style of writing, but it is something I think is good to keep in mind as you start Illuminae ;-).


Illuminae is an ambitious start to what promises to certainly be an interesting series. While not everything worked for me, I hope that the series continues to develop sci-fi storytelling in a new direction. The ending of Illuminae promises some intriguing directions, so as long as the plot matures past the pretty typical storyline that Illuminae told, I’m game to read the sequel!

Anya from On Starships and Dragonwings

Have you read this one? What did you think? Are you excited for it if you haven’t gotten to it yet?
– Anya


 Illumina by Amie Kaufman and Jay Kristoff

© 2015, Anya. All rights reserved.


  1. My biggest issue was the romance – I never really felt it. Meh.

  2. I’m curious for sure to know how well the author pulled off the story through these little bits and pieces of graphics and other stuff, sounds like it was a fun read if anything!
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    • Definitely an interesting and fun read! There are still sections that are pretty much just prose since it is describing a video or something, but there are lots of cool text treatments and such too.

  3. I agree, the story was a blend of plots elements that should be very familiar to readers of sci-fi. I kinda had myself an eye-roll when I learned about the twist with the plague. But I thought the ending was pretty amazing though!
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  4. Oh my goodness, THANK YOU for the balanced review – I’ve only seen five stars flat out ravings for this one and they make me a bit nervous because things can be too good to be true, you know? XD
    I really love that the story is told in such a creative way, I just emerged from reading The Dead House and I adored the epistolary form the book was told in! However, I have doubts whether I could form attachments to characters if all I’m reading are chat logs. I am still so excited for this though, I will pick this up as soon as I spy it in local stores.
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  5. Ahh FINALLY, a non-5-star review for this book. I know lots of people loved it, but I was waiting for at least one mediocre/bad one before I got it because I simply don’t trust books with such a hype.
    No hand holding?! That’s a deal breaker right there! :D Seriously, though, I like my romance to be in-person, too.
    Do you read graphic novels? Does this format compare at all? I feel like in graphic novels, the narrative can be disjointed and you have to look at every speech bubble/sound to really get everything – and this sounds kind of similar, but I’ve never read a book like that, either.
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    • I have unique contributions to make ;-) I’ve only read a few graphic novels but I didn’t find it similar since they show you the characters’ emotions through images and Illuminae doesn’t have those images ya know?

  6. I’m so nervous about this book. I want to love it, but I just don’t know if I will. I’ve never read a book written in such a unique format. I’m all about my words, so that might be a problem. The romance is what worries me the most, though, as I don’t like Amie Kaufman’s heavy-on-the-romance Starbound series. Your take on the romance is interesting, because if almost sounds as if there could have been *more* romance, not less. I’m first on the hold list for this one as well, so I guess I’ll find out soon. :D

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