I’ve just recently finished reading books one and two in the Illuminae Files by Aussie authors Jay Kristoff and Amie Kaufman. Kaufman is best known in the Australian young adult scene for her series co-written with Meagan Spooner, Starbound, another science fiction and fantasy. Jay Kristoff is similarly known for his fantasy and science fiction, in particular The Lotus War series. The first book in the Illuminae Files, Illuminae, has won all manner of awards – the Australian Book Industry Young Adult book of the year, the Inky Award, Australian Independent Booksellers Awards and was shortlisted for the Prime Minister’s Literary Award.
Prior to its release in 2015, there was a fair bit of social media hype around the release of Illuminae, so, naturally, I was curious. I find young adult books quite enjoyable reads, but I’m very hit and miss with science fiction/fantasy books. It’s not my favourite genre to read (as I detail here in my annual tradition of dedicating the month of June to reading fantasy series!) but I do try and at least read it a few times a year. I figured that given the amount of hype and the diverse readership that were reading and recommending the book that I at least had to give it a go.
And I am so glad that I did! Illuminae is not only an engaging and fast-paced read, it is absolutely unique, unlike anything else that’s out there for teenage readers. It’s not only the premise of the book that makes it unique – taking place in 2375, a mega-corporation in deep space has destroyed the small planet with no regard for the life that was on it; in particular, our two main characters, Kady Grant and Ezra Mason. After just going through a messy breakup, they want only to avoid each other. However, they certainly didn’t expect their entire world to fall apart. They are forced to flee on board crippled rescue ships alongside many other refugees. Not only this, but there is also a plague ravaging the ships, those who are supposed to be protecting them may be their enemy, and High Command are refusing to acknowledge that there is a problem. It’s intense and it’s, at times, unputdownable! (yes, that’s a word…)
But what makes this book so unique is not the content, but the format. Unlike a “normal” novel, Illuminae is presented as a series of chat logs, emails, security camera footage and visualisations of the happenings of the book. It is because of this that it’s hefty size (which may not quite be conveyed in photos, but it’s a bit of a monster) is not at all intimidating – I finished it in less than a week, but I’m sure a faster reader would be able to finish it even more quickly! It means that huge chunks of the book can be read in a matter of minutes; at times, there are only a handful of words across several pages.
As a result, it’s a beautiful book. At times visceral and violent, at times romantic and beautiful, and at times frustrating and compulsive, it truly is unlike anything else that I’ve ever read. And so, I was keen to sink my teeth into the sequel, Gemina, which was only released a few weeks ago in October 2016.
Chronologically, Gemina is both a companion and a sequel to its predecessor Illuminae. It takes place minutes after the end of the first book, but this book takes place on Jump Station Heimdall, with two new main characters to confront the assault of BeiTech. Privileged commander’s daughter, Hanna Donnelly, and Nik, a reluctant member of notorious crime family House of Knives, are the unlikely duo who will be working together as the Hypatia head towards Heimdall. This novel features alien predators, a space-time continuum, martial arts and the fate of the entire universe in the hands of Hanna and Nik.
Stylistically, this book is told in the same manner as Illuminae, a series of documents such as emails, messages, classified files, but also diary entries, lists of names and this book even features photos! These lists and photos also highlight another great feature of these books, which is just how engaged Kristoff and Kaufman are with their fanbase – prior to the release of Gemina, there were competitions you could enter to have your name featured in the book, and I believe that there is already a competition to have your name on a death list in the third book!
It’s unusual that this would happen, but I actually enjoyed Gemina more than Illuminae. Perhaps this is because I was engrossed in the style already and I knew a little bit more what to expect, but it also proved to have an explosive ending that made me really just want to read the third book! Unfortunately, I just have to wait until next year before that can happen, but I’m so glad that I read outside of my comfort zone with these books and that it proved to be such an enjoyable and engaging experience.
Here are some photos of my favourite pages from the two books: