Illuminae, by Jay Kristoff and Ami Kaufman
Omg this book. It's been a minute since I've been as obsessed with a book as I am with this. As in, staying up to the early hours because I have to know. I have two small kids, y'all. Sleep is precious to me. Long gone are my days of reading past midnight ... until now. Everyone who counselled me to get on this book immediately was right. What a ride.
Things start with a bang ... as in, an entire planet under attack. High school students run for their lives as everything they know is destroyed. We follow the story of Kady and Ezra, who broke up earlier that day. At the very beginning of the story, I went into this thinking it was a YA romance, albeit a super cool one (we'll get to that in a second). And then as my mind was blown for like the eighteenth time, I realized this isn't YA and this isn't a romance, at least not in the traditional sense. It's a love letter to humanity, for the best that humans can be, our fucked up decision-making fueled by love and grief, which leaves us vulnerable but can occasionally lead to sparks of brilliance. Our hope is where miracles spring from.
There were so many things I loved about this book. I guess the best place to start is what makes it unusual, the format in which the story is told. A group, Illuminae, compiled a dossier on the incidents which already occurred. We don't know who Illuminae is, or the persons requesting the information. Then we receive the 600 page dossier of chronologically what happened from the time a planet is attacked by an evil megacorporation, to when several nuclear attacks destroy battleships across the galaxies, and it is incredible. I thought it might be hard to get into a book made from files of text messages, reports and vocal interactions, and yet it is not. It is amazing. I spent Christmas morning studying intergalactic battleship schematics muttering "this book is so cool."
The next thing to focus on is an incredibly intricate plot which grabs you by the throat from the very moment it starts, and never drops a thread or gets confused. There are competing corporations and illegal mining operations in far-flung solar systems. There are several major attacks and many ships that are destroyed along the way. There is a zombie plague burning through the remaining population like wildfire, and the afflicted are as likely to tear you apart before you are infected yourself. There is a killer AI system with nuclear capabilities gone rogue. And you just want more! Absolutely stunning.
On to the characters. Kady and Ezra are pretty cool (maybe a touch too cool? Kady seems to be that kind of perfect character who is so super awesome nothing can touch her and I felt so inferior whenever she was around. She took her blows though, no doubt about that, and you certainly need a genius uber-hacker around when dealing with an AI overlord). But the hands-down star of the show here was AIDAN (Artificial Intelligence Defence Analytics Network). The glitchy AI of the Alexander battleship, AIDAN is shut off after doing something the humans aboard found abhorrent. However, AIDAN was not cool about being shut off like that. From the beginning, it is unclear whether AIDAN is a villain or a saviour, but as a reader you find yourself feeling empathy, affection and maybe even love for an operating system. AIDAN is one of the most complicated characters (antihero?) that I have read in a very long time.
Am I not merciful?
How else can I gush about this book? The setting is perfectly realized. Even if you are not a sci-fi fan, you will be pulled directly into the book and understand fully what it is to live on these ships. The ending played with my emotions, as well. You start off with hope, then less so, then less so, until, you just know there can be no hope. Kaufman and Kristoff pulled this off brilliantly. Illuminae is masterfully constructed and flawlessly executed. A must-read for everyone. Where is Gemina, I must have it immediately.