I have no words.
In all honesty, that could be my whole review. Because after very busy days where I stole every free moment I had to all but devour this book, it left my heart in this pure after-story bliss that only comes with the really good ones. And really, it’s only for the fact that a blog is pretty useless if it’s not filled with some sort of statement that I continue to talk at all. That, and maybe a few people will actually give it a go.
No (Space) Ships For Me
I’ll start with something people might not know. I don’t read sci-fi. I don’t even watch sci-fi. Star Trek is pretty much the only exception to this. Whenever there are space ships involved, I’m out. I don’t even know what it is that I find lacking in that genre, but I usually don’t even give it a try anymore. So why was Illuminae different? I saw a fee pictures taken on Instagram with the hardcover version and I completely fell in love with the design. The Raw Shark Texts are up to this day one of my favorite books, so is The City of Dreaming Books. Both has something to do with the fact that I simply love it when writing patterns are broken up and reshaped into a new kind of story. This is why I jumped over my sci-fi shaped shadow. And boy, am I glad I did.
Twists and Turns
Illuminae is presented as a casefile and even though I think the plot might have been good enough to carry the book as a conventional chapter-by-chapter novel, it certainly was executed way smarter this way. I’m a reader who isn’t easily surprised. Piecing together stories is only fun for me when I stay in the dark for a while. There are little things that annoy me more than when a book tries to be smart and in the end everything turns out to be as expected after all. Illuminae dishes out one plot twist after the other and even when I saw a few of them coming, the big ones still hit me right where they were meant to hit me –straight in the heart. And it really says something that at the very end of 599 pages, right in the very last chapter, there were still two twists that I hadn’t seen coming at all.
My brain keeps working when I read a story like that. It’s a blessing and a curse. The good thing is that my heart rate actually spikes when a book has to offer this much suspense. The bad thing is that Illuminae literally cost me two nights of sleep where I woke up several times thinking I was on board of one of the big ships, fighting for my life. Today I actually told my mom, “I wish I could help somehow, but I can’t.” I almost cried during lunch.
Illuminae is a narrative AND emotional rollercoaster. After reading Crooked Kingdom which was similarly intelligent novel, I feel almost spoiled now. Two books that make their wits work that way within a month is pretty awesome.
I’ve already said that the book is an emotional rollercoaster as well. That only works with strong characters. This could have broken Illuminae. A book that’s presented as a casefile has to work twice as hard to build emotional depth but not only did the story introduce two main character I found myself rooting for beyond my usual attachment, it also has a kaleidoscope of side characters you find yourself caring for deeply if you just manage to think through the story and really read into it. I think that might be what could be a challenge for readers. It’s not something you can just “consume”. You have to stay in the game. The story will keep you on your toes and you have to like it in order to actually enjoy this crazy ride.
The reward – and the irony isn’t lost on me – is that Illuminae will break your heart. More than once. You’ll fall for all the wrong characters. You know they won’t make it and it will still hit you when they pass because you were clinging to some sort of hope that has no place in a story like this. The sick joke throughout the entire book is that the word “Mercy” is mentioned so often in a place that’s wide, cold and dark beyond measure. There is no place for mercy in it. But readers are humans and humans always hope for the best.
What probably surprised me most of all is that I fell for the couple. As I said, I bought Illuminae because of its structure, but even when I bought it, I was a little annoyed knowing that I would have to read about a teenage couple going in. But I have to say that both Kady and Ezra have been two of the most well-rounded and real characters I’ve ever had the pleasure to read about. There is some of this almost childlike foolishness to their action, but it’s laced with the bitterness of the need to grow up fast after tragedy strikes. I’ve never had the feeling to read a dull love story. Not even once. And I caught myself begging the book to just let them be okay in the end on more than once occasion. What I probably love the most is that I was able to read one of those very rare stories where I love both parts of a duo equally. Ezra is cute and sweet and funny, but also brave and smart. Kady is witty and a little awkward, but brilliant just the same. He’s not all badass, but a very round character with insecurities and vulnerabilities. Neither of the characters is beyond fear or love and I think that’s what I loved best about Illuminae. But then again, I have to admit that well rounded characters can make up pretty much everything for me.
Illuminae is a delicious puzzle that will most likely break your heart in the best way possible. It’s intelligent, it’s beautiful. It’s poetic even through its analytic structure. It offers characters that you will love or hate but in either way that you can’t help but care about. What I might have to add at this point is that the book has a few scenes that aren’t easy to stomach. It’s a very raw, very real story that will most likely keep your heart racing from beginning to the end if you just let it.
Small edit: If you can afford it, definitely go for the hardcover. This isn’t a book made for an e-reader.