Series Review: The Illuminae Files by Amie Kaufman & Jay Kristoff (Spoiler-Free)

Caught in the middle of a conflict between two corporate giants, the residents of the illegal mining colony of Kerenza IV find themselves forced to flee through deep space, pursued by people who will kill to keep their crimes a secret. Potentially more dangerous, however, is the quickly-spreading virus aboard the colonists’ already-damaged ship – and the ship’s A.I., which will do anything within its power to save them.

The Illuminae Files is comprised of three books: IlluminaeGemina and Obsidio. The summary above only describes the first book, but the plot of the later two goes on to describe the continuing struggle between the the aforementioned corporate giants (the Wallace Ulyanov Consortium – or WUC – and BeiTech Industries), and the roles of two more pairs of protagonists in it. Each book’s plot is relatively separate, but they are blended together perfectly to create an overarching storyline that is incredibly powerful, and feels truly epic in scale.

The most immediately noticeable thing about these books is their formatting: The entire series is told in the form of data-logs, emails, IM chats, and beautiful word art, along with descriptions of security footage, which are the most conventional parts of the series to read, but from an obvious outsider perspective. Hanna, one of the main characters in Gemina, has a talent for drawing, so in the last two books we also see a lot of extracts from her sketchbooks. (These illustrations are – in the non-fictional world – by Marie Lu, who did a fantastic job.) This was one of a couple of reasons why I didn’t start Illuminae with high hopes; these all seemed to me to be barriers that I would have to overcome in order to really get to know the characters, and as someone who is primarily drawn to character-driven stories, that preconception was a massive turn-off.

Thankfully, however, it was also a massive misconception. True, we didn’t see directly into their heads all that often, but the challenge of portraying fully-fleshed-out characters mainly through conversation and body language was one that the authors rose to, to great effect. I laughed, I cried, I raged and I yearned as I read these books. Additionally, I found that this formatting lent itself really well towards fast paced action, and did a particularly great job of portraying the confusion and chaos of warfare. There’s a couple of pages near the end of Obsidio that are entirely made up of jumbled-up radio transmissions of people trying to figure out what’s happening in a battle, and it doesn’t tell a story in any traditional sense, but it does make its point very vividly; that everything is happening all at once, and everyone involved is confused and frightened, despite their determination. Granted, if the whole book had been like those to pages, it would’ve been unreadable, but Kaufman and Kristoff managed to strike a very nice balance between styles, so that each one had its own powerful impact.

Of the three pairs of protagonists, I found myself more attached to Kady and Ezra than either Hanna and Nik or Asha and Rhys, but because – as the lead characters in the first book – I spent much more time with them over the course of the series than with the others, rather than because they were any better written. Correspondingly, I was much less invested in Asha and Rhys, who were only introduced in Obsidio, where they were already sharing screen-time with the other four – but they were all excellent, compelling characters. As was AIDEN, their A.I. kind-of-ally, whose presence was felt in almost every twist and turn of the plot (and who I loved).

Each pair also had their own romantic sub-plot, which both sweet and very believable, and (unusually for YA, at least in my experience) all of these were either built on pre-existing relationships, or at least pre-existing feelings. This could have made us as readers feel disconnected from the romances, but I found that the characters’ feelings still grew and changed enough that that wasn’t the case, and I also appreciated the fact that less time spent building the relationships from scratch meant that more time could be spent on developing the main story.

This whole series was incredibly emotionally draining, in the best possible way, and Illuminae and Obsidio were particularly intense (there were a few places in both of them that brought me close to tears). Gemina was probably the weakest of the three, as it felt a little less connected to the series’ overarching storyline (its plot was kind of a “meanwhile, these other peripherally-connected things were going on nearby”), but that’s really not saying much, as the other two were so incredible; all three books were definite five-star reads for me, and Illuminae was my favourite of them.

Advertisements

The Skyrim Book Tag

Guess who finally decided to play Skyrim? If your answer was me, then you’d be right! 😀 It certainly took me long enough, with pretty much everyone I know going on and on about how much they thought I’d love it. And guess what else; I am absolutely loving it. XD This tag was created by The Quirky Book Nerd, and I wasn’t tagged by anyone, but I thought I’d give it a go anyway – it looks super-fun! 🙂

Amie Kaufman & Jay Kristoff//Illuminae1) Fus Ro Dah – A book that blew you away.

Illuminae by Amie Kaufman & Jay Kristoff! I read this last year, and it made me feel so many things! I laughed, I cried, I nagged all my friends to read it incessantly… 😛 It also really got me into sci-fi, a genre I’d previously been rather leery of (and which I now really enjoy). I can’t wait for the sequel!

J.K. Rowling//Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone2) Dovahkiin – Favorite “chosen one” story.

This is probably an overused answer, but as far as Chosen Ones go, nothing beats the Harry Potter series by J.K. Rowling. 😉

J.K. Rowling//Harry Potter & the Cursed Child3) Thu’um – A book that got a verbal reaction out of you (good or bad).

I tend to stay pretty quiet when I’m reading, but there was a point near the end of Harry Potter & the Cursed Child (during that scene between Harry and Dumbledore’s portrait) where I realised that the strange whining noise I could hear was coming from me. 😳

Sarah J. Maas//Queen of Shadows4) Arrow to the Knee – A book or series that started out well but ended up being disappointing.

Will I incite a lynch-mob if I say Queen of Shadows by Sarah J. Maas? (Probably, but I’m saying it anyway.) The whole Throne of Glass series just seemed to be getting better and better as it went on, and Heir of Fire was close to perfection, but all the character-development decisions that Maas decided to make in the most recent book were a huge disappointment to me. 😦

Patrick Ness//The Knife of Never Letting Go5) Shadowmere – Favorite literary/fictional animal or pet.

I really, really love Manchee from The Knife of Never Letting Go by Patrick Ness – he’s the ultimate doggy friend. 😀 I like Angharrad (a horse who appears later on in the same series) a lot, too, but Manchee still wins.

J.R.R. Tolkien//The Fellowship of the Ring6) Alduin – Most frightening literary/fictional animal.

Hands down, it has to be Shelob from The Lord of the Rings by J.R.R. Tolkien. I deal badly enough with normal-sized spiders…

Sarah J. Maas//Heir of Fire7) Companions Guild – Best literary friendship.

I don’t know if this strictly counts, since it did eventually become a romance (much to my annoyance), but one of my favourite things about Heir of Fire by Sarah J. Maas was the slow-burn friendship between Celaena and Rowan…

Susan Hill//I'm the King of the Castle8) Dark Brotherhood – The darkest story you’ve ever read.

Probably I’m the King of the Castle by Susan Hill, a chilling story about bullying that you can’t escape from, and authority figures too blind to notice it. Everything I’ve read of Susan Hill’s has been dark, but this one was pitch black.

Scott Lynch//Lies of Locke Lamora9) Thieves Guild – Favorite morally ambiguous character.

Locke Lamora! From the Gentleman Bastard series by Scott Lynch. He’s a conman, and does some pretty extremely questionable things over the course of the first book (the only one I’ve read so far), but I couldn’t help but love him anyway! ❤

Rainbow Rowell//Kindred Spirits10) Wuld Nah Kest (whirlwind sprint) – Your fastest read.

I couldn’t say for sure (I’ve read a lot of very short books, very quickly), but probably something like Kindred Spirits by Rainbow Rowell – an adorable World Book Day novella that I read in less than an hour.

George R.R. Martin//A Dance with Dragons11) Tiid Klo Ul (slow time) – Your slowest read.

A Dance with Dragons by George R.R. Martin took me forever to read, mostly because it mainly featured all my least-favourite characters from the A Song of Ice & Fire series… I spent months carrying this book everywhere with me in hopes that I’d crack it open, with very little success. 😦

Tamora Pierce//The Magic in the Weaving12) Tamriel – Favorite fictional world.

Both of Tamora Pierce’s fantasy worlds are ones that I love to get lost in, but since most of my favourite books of hers are part of the Circle universe, I’ll go with Emelan, where the Circle of MagicThe Circle Opens, and The Circle Reforged series are all set. The magic system is wonderful, the world is richly imagined, and it’s full of some of my favourite stories and characters… I really hope I get to read more from this universe soon! XD

Bonus Question:

+1) “Sworn to Carry Your Burdens” – The heaviest book you own.

A Dance with Dragons, which I own as a massive hardcover. All that carrying it around that I mentioned? My shoulders were punishing me for it long after I finally finished the book. 😳

The New Year’s Resolution Tag

It’s getting a little late in the month for Resolutions, but it’s still January, so what the heck. 😛 And it’s a tag; I like tags, as you’ve all probably figured out by now. 😉 This tag was co-created by Emily at Embuhlee liest and Shivii at Brown Eyed Musings, and I was tagged to do it by Chloë at SSJTimeLord and Her Books – thanks, Chloë! 😀

And now, on with the questions!

bookshelves1) Get in shape: Name a book that doesn’t quite fit on your shelf correctly.

The illustrated edition of Harry Potter & the Philosopher’s Stone by J.K. Rowling. It’s too tall to fit on any of my shelves except my comics shelf (which is already full), so it’s been propped up against my TBR bookcase since I bought it, which doesn’t feel like an appropriate place for it at all! 😦

Elizabeth Gaskell//North & South2) Eat healthily: Name a book you feel was good for you to read.

North & South by Elizabeth Gaskell. Not only did I really love this book, but it also reminded me that reading classics didn’t have to be a chore – and I do sometimes need to be reminded of that, since they can be quite difficult to get into, even when they’re really good.

3) Read more: Name a book you keep telling yourself to read but haven’t yet.

Maggie Stiefvater//SinnerThere are hundreds of them, but the one that sticks out the most to me is probably Sinner by Maggie Stiefvater. I spent ages waiting for the paperback release, so that it would match the rest of the series, and that whole time, I was really, really eager to finally read it. Then I got it, and it’s been sitting on my TBR shelf, unread, ever since. Why? Not a clue. ❓

Tamora Pierce//Street Magic4) Quit smoking: Name a book you kept going back to even though you had finished it.

Street Magic by Tamora Pierce. I’ve read this several times, but it’s the audiobook that I keep going back to over and over again. It’s masterfully done, and I tend to switch it on whenever I feel like listening to something that isn’t music; it never gets old! 😀 Street Magic is also my #1 comfort read.

Patrick Ness//The Rest of Us Just Live Here5) Save more money: Name a book you got for a really good price.

Hmm… Recently, I got the hardback edition of The Rest of Us Just Live Here by Patrick Ness for just £5; The Book People has some really great deals… 🙂

6) Be more organised: How do you organize your bookshelf?

By genre, nowadays. I used to organise it alphabetically, but it just wasn’t practical in terms of space (which I kept running out of)… 😦 One day, when I have more bookcases, I hope to arrange them alphabetically again.

Kate Beaton//The Princess & the Pony7) Be punctual: What’s the shortest time and longest time it took you to read a book?

George R.R. Martin//A Dance with DragonsWell, it depends on the book. Books like The Princess & the Pony by Kate Beaton, or The Fox & the Star by Coralie Bickford-Smith I can read in a matter of minutes. On the other hand, it took me several months to get through A Dance with Dragons by George R.R. Martin

8) Go out more: What book made you isolate yourself from the outside world?

George R.R. Martin//A Game of ThronesThe A Song of Ice & Fire series by George R.R. Martin! (Well, most of them.) I read the first four books in this series in rapid succession while I was on holiday in Skye a couple of years ago, and thoroughly (and vocally) resented every moment I was forced to spend away from them. 😳

Rainbow Rowell//Carry On9) Be unique: What was your favourite book of 2015?

Amie Kaufman & Jay Kristoff//IlluminaeEither Carry On by Rainbow Rowell, or Illuminae by Amie Kaufman & Jay Kristoff! I talked a lot about why in my 2015 favourites post. 🙂

10) Be more personal: What book are you waiting for most this year?

Den Patrick//The Girl on the Liar's ThroneAt the moment, most of my excitement is for The Girl on the Liar’s Throne by Den Patrick (which is, thankfully, coming out in just a few days). The last book in the series left off on such a tense note that I’ve been dying to know what happens next since the moment I finished it!

David Mitchell//Cloud Atlas11) Really, resolutions?: What book do you promise to read next this year?

Haha. I’ve written a whole list of them – which you can read here – but of the books on it, the one I most want to read soon is probably Cloud Atlas by David Mitchell.

December Wrap-Up

My first post of 2016! (Though I’ll probably still be talking about last year – and isn’t that odd to say? – for a little while longer.) I read nine books in December, which wasn’t my best reading month in 2015, but what it lacked in quantity, it definitely made up for in quality! 😀 And my reading was also pretty sci-fi-heavy, which isn’t something that’s ever happened to me before… But anyway, on to the books:

Amie Kaufman & Jay Kristoff//IlluminaeIlluminae by Amie Kaufman & Jay Kristoff. A sci-fi thriller that follows two teenagers who – after being evacuated from an illegal mining planet that was under attack – are attempting to reach safety with a group of damaged ships, and pursued by their attackers, whose ship is in significantly better shape than theirs. Interestingly, this story is told almost entirely in the form of data files and IM transcripts, and the such, which I was initially worried that I would find off-putting, but somehow it didn’t make me feel distant from the characters at all (and actually, since the files had personal details of everyone on board, I think it actually made the characters seem more real to me, not less). In terms of the story itself, it was fantastic, and tense, and full of surprises, and incredibly powerfully written. I would definitely recommend this, even for people like me who aren’t generally fans of sci-fi.5+ starsChristine Pope//Blood Will TellBlood Will Tell by Christine Pope. The second book in the Gaian Consortium series, which follows the hacker Miala Fels, who’s in the middle of trying to break into the bank accounts of her father’s murderer (the crime lord Mast), when he and his entire gang are killed in a shoot-out – except for the mercenary Eryk Thorn, who Miala saves in exchange for his help getting off-planet. I’ve always found Christine Pope’s writing rather hit-or-miss, but this is definitely one of the better ones! I really loved both Miala and Thorn, and their relationship dynamic was great. The plot was also pretty fun (especially in the first half of the book), though nothing special in itself – the romance is definitely the selling point for this series.4 starsLauren Oliver//Before I FallBefore I Fall by Lauren Oliver. A contemporary novel that I’ve been meaning to read for the longest time… It’s about a teenage girl called Sam, who dies in a car accident on her way home from a party one night – and then wakes up again (and again, and again), the morning before it happened. Time loops have, of course, been done to death in literature, but I found that I really liked Oliver’s take on it: Every time Sam relives her last day, she does things a little differently, and learns new things about herself, and the people around her, and this allowed for some really incredible character development. The characters themselves were brilliant – they were very realistically portrayed, and I found that I actually really liked all of them, even though most of Sam’s friends (and even Sam herself) aren’t always the most likeable people. I wasn’t a huge fan of the ending (not because it was bad, but because it didn’t work out the way I wanted it to), but overall, it was an interesting and enjoyable read. I’ve written a full review of this book, which you can read by following this link.4 stars

Christine Pope//The Mandala ManeuverThe Mandala Maneuver by Christine Pope. The fourth book in the Gaian Consortium series (which is a companion series, and doesn’t need to be read chronologically), following a human diplomat called Alexa, whose shuttle is attacked, stranding her on the strange, inhospitable planet of Mandala with Lirzhan, the Zhore ambassador – but very soon they discover that not all is as it seems on Mandala. This was one of the less interesting books in the series, though the plot initially seemed to have some promise. Unfortunately Alexa and Lirzhan were both rather bland, which rather killed the story for me. :/ I might have enjoyed this more, however, if I’d read it before I read Breath of Life (the first book in the series, which is also about a human-Zhore couple), but the characters and relationship in The Mandala Maneuver felt very similar to in Breath of Life.2 starsMarissa Meyer//FairestFairest by Marissa Meyer. The prequel to the Lunar Chronicles novels, which tells the story of Queen Levana, the series’ main antagonist. I was initially a bit nervous about reading this, as I’d heard a lot of mixed reviews, but – much to my surprise – I ended up really liking it! 😀 It was also my Library Scavenger Hunt pick for December, so I’ve written a mini-review which you can read here. 🙂5 starsMelina Marchetta//Finnikin of the RockFinnikin of the Rock by Melina Marchetta. The first book in the Lumatere Chronicles, which follows Finnikin, a Lumateran boy who’s searching for a way to help his people return to their homeland, which has been taken over by a tyrant, and is surrounded by a magical barrier that kills anyone who tries to cross it – and then one day he meets a girl called Evanjalin, who swears that the rightful heir to the throne is still alive. I struggled to get into this book at first: The narrative took some getting used to, and Marchetta seemed quite fond of switching perspectives without warning, which could be confusing at times. The story itself is wonderful, however, and I really, really loved the main characters, Finnikin and Evanjalin, and although the big reveal near the end of the story didn’t exactly take me by surprise, it was so well-executed that I found that I didn’t really mind. Even Froi grew on me, which is fortunate, since he’s apparently the main character in the second book… ^^’ And, as with many slow-burn fantasy books, I got a lot more invested as the story went on – for the last 200 pages or so, I had real difficulty putting it down!5 starsTakashi Hiraide//The Guest CatThe Guest Cat by Takashi Hiraide. A short novel about a couple who befriend their neighbours’ cat, Chibi, and how she changes their lives and way of thinking. An enjoyable story, though I’m not really sure how to explain it… It was slow-paced, meandering and quite whimsical, but I found myself liking all the characters a lot. This isn’t the kind of book I’d usually read, but was still definitely worth reading, and I’d recommend it for fans of literary fiction.3 starsMarissa Meyer//WinterWinter by Marissa Meyer. The fourth and final book in the Lunar Chronicles series, and the first book I completed for the Holiday Booktubeathon (for which I didn’t write a dedicated wrap-up because I was too pressed for time…). Obviously, anything I could say about the plot would make this place spoiler central, so I won’t, but I can talk about the characters, who were all wonderful. Scarlet and Wolf, in particular, really shone through in this book, which was something of a surprise to me, as they have, until now, been my least-favourite (main) characters in the series – and I also really liked the friendship between Scarlet and Winter. Winter herself wasn’t quite as awe-inspiringly crazy as she appeared to be at the end of Cress, but I still absolutely loved her. 😀 Getting to know Jacin a bit better was also wonderful, as were all the returning characters… My only real complaint about this book is that I wish it had been longer (and since it was already over 800 pages, that complaint seems a little unreasonable), so I’m definitely going to be getting the novella bind-up, Stars Above, when it’s out, as it apparently contains an epilogue-type story (amongst others, of course).5 stars

Emma Mills//First & ThenFirst & Then by Emma Mills. A contemporary romance that’s half Pride & Prejudice, and half Friday Night Lights: It follows a girl called Devon in her last year of high school, as she copes with: college applications; her younger cousin, Foster, coming to live with her; an embarrassing, long-time crush on her best friend Cas; and her developing feelings for Ezra, the captain and star of the school football team. I’ve never been a huge fan of American football, and since I’d heard this book compared to Friday Night Lights, I suspected that it’d be fairly central to the plot, but although it was undoubtedly important to the story, I found that it felt more like a backdrop to everything else that was going on, which I liked; I definitely wouldn’t recommend that anyone read this book purely for the football aspect. As for the aforementioned “everything else”, it was all really great. I loved Devon, and really identified with her; Foster was adorable, and their relationship progression was both realistic and incredibly sweet; Ezra – the Mr. Darcy of the story – was a wonderful combination of swoon-worthy and socially-awkward (my favourite kind of love interest! 😉 ). It was a shame that the book wasn’t longer (my copy is 267 pages long), however, as I would’ve liked to have seen more of Emir – a character who showed up at the beginning, then disappeared until near the end, when he became surprisingly important to the plot – and also of Ezra and Devon as a couple.5 stars

2015 in Review: Favourites

Since we’re getting super, super-close to the end of the year, I thought it was about time that I shared some of my 2015 favourites with you! (That is, books I read in 2015, rather than books that were released in 2015… Though, as it turns out, a surprising number of these are actually new releases.) It takes a lot for me to pick a new book as an “official” favourite – by adding it to my favourites shelf on Goodreads – but there were five books that made the cut this year, and they are (in the order in which I read them):

Elizabeth Gaskell//North & SouthAll the way back in February, I read North & South by Elizabeth Gaskell, since I’d been watching (and loving) the 2004 mini-series with my cousin, but was too impatient to wait for her so we could finish the series together. Reading the book was, for me, a nice compromise that let me find out what was going to happen, without actually going ahead and watching the TV series on my own. This was also one of the 12 books that I wrote a full review for this year – you can read it here.

Jenn Bennett//Night OwlsE. Lockhart//The Disreputable History of Frankie Landau-BanksIn the summer, I – like many people, I think – got really into contemporary fiction, and I ended up reading several very good ones. The two that really stood out to me, however, were The Disreputable History of Frankie Landau-Banks by E. Lockhart, which was a simultaneously really fun and really, really interesting boarding school story, full of pranks and social commentary; and Night Owls by Jenn Bennett, which was more of a pure romance novel, but with an unusual, arty premise.

Rainbow Rowell//Carry OnThe next book that really blew me away didn’t come along until October, but was, of course, Carry On by Rainbow Rowell! 😀 I’d been looking forward to this book for so long, and grabbed it as soon as I had the chance – and it didn’t disappoint, even a tiny bit. XD Everything about this book just made me ridiculously happy; I spent several weeks after (and during) reading it in a Carry On-induced happy daze, probably walking around with a ridiculous grin on my face the whole time. ^^’ (I also wrote a mini-review of this one, since I finished it during the Dewey’s 24-Hour Readathon.)

Amie Kaufman & Jay Kristoff//IlluminaeSo, if I had to pick an absolute favourite for the year, then that would probably be it… Or this book would be: Illuminae by Amie Kaufman & Jay Kristoff came as a huge surprise to me. I’d heard a whole load of rave reviews, and I eventually picked it up because I was curious, but – since I am, emphatically, not a sci-fi fan – I wasn’t expecting to be hugely impressed. Needless to say, I was wrong. Illuminae was powerful, and ridiculously emotional; I even cried a bit, towards the end, which is something that hasn’t happened since I read The Book Thief last summer (and never before that, so far as I can remember). I’ll definitely be picking up the second book in this series as soon as it comes out next year!

November Haul

Only three books in November, which must be some kind of record! ❗ And I’m not entirely sure how this happened, either, as I haven’t been trying not to buy books recently… But anyway, here’s my (brief! 😀 ) November haul:

November haul

1) Ash & Bramble by Sarah Prineas. A Cinderella retelling that was released quite recently – and by some miracle showed up at the second-hand bookshop where I work! I haven’t read this yet, but I’ve heard a lot of good things, and am excited to start it soon. 🙂

2) The Battle of the Sun by Jeanette Winterson. This one is a fantasy, I believe, but I don’t know much more about it than that… I found this second-hand as well, and thought it looked intriguing, so of course I had to have it. 😉

3) Illuminae by Amie Kaufman & Jay Kristoff. A new sci-fi novel (told in the form of data files, IM transcripts, wiki articles, and the such) that everyone seems to have been talking about recently, & which I mostly picked up on a whim, while I was Christmas shopping… and I’m so glad I did! I’ve already read this, and I loved it! 😀