Books in series:The Illuminae Files (1), Gemina (2), Obsidio (3)
Published by: Knopf Books
My rating: 3.5 overall (The Illuminae Files 4★, Gemina 3★, Obsidio 3.5★)
Genres: science fiction, young adult
Diversity: major side character who uses a wheelchair
Content warnings: graphic violence, colonisation, death of children, alcohol use
“May we meet again on distant shores.
Some place fine and far from here.”
This is one of the most unique series I’ve ever read. Both the physical and audiobooks have the most well thought out and interesting format that makes reading these so enjoyable. The format was what drew me into these books above all, and I think it’s one of the strongest features of this series.
This series has some real die hard fans and I love that, but I personally didn’t like it as much as some people seem to (which is fine!). Though it definitely kind of made me feel a little left out on the hype. But it’s an overall enjoyable series nonetheless, despite some flaws, and I think lots of my issues were a “its me, not you” situation.
Although each book follows a different set of characters and plot, the overarching plot of the book is the events that occur following the invasion of the Kerenza mining system by a corporation called BeiTech. The first book follows the Kerenza colonists as they flee from the planet, the second book follows them as they are pursued through space by BeiTech and attempt to get word of their survival home and the final book explores life on the ground for the colonists left behind.
I think the plot was probably the strongest aspect of this series. Both the overarching plot and than the insulated complications in each book were very exciting and had really gripping set ups. From the onset of a deadly virus throughout the survivors, to the guerrilla defence of a ship by two teenagers, to organised planet side resistance and the assembling of the Illuminae Files to reveal the truth of it all, Jay Kristoff and Amie Kuafman truly came up with some unique and gripping plots that absolutely made Illuminae stand out from other YA sci-fi’s I’ve read.
However, one thing I actually hated about the plot was how it never went there. I detest when books with big set ups have no consequences and I thought that there were too many cop outs and a complete lack of consequence that really disappointed me and left me a little cheated. On one hand, the plot is telling us this is a ruthless tale with dire outcomes. On the other, none of those outcomes eventuate. It’s like the authors were trying to have their cake and eat it too. I am really sick of big setups with no payoff and in the third book especially this totally ruined the stakes and tension. I never felt genuinely concerned for the characters after book two. And that is a massive problem.
As opposed to plot, I think the characters work wasn’t as well done as I would have hoped. First of all, The Illuminae Files follows a structure in which every book follows different main characters. This isn’t really a structure I like at all, and so even though it’s a “me” thing I feel this series suffered because of that structure.
The format of the books also created a barrier between me and the characters that was a little difficult to surmount. The whole series is told in observation from an anonymous security camera analysts and through things like text messages. I think it made it hard to connect with the characters on a deeper level. Their characterisation always felt a bit superficial, because you were either being TOLD not shown through the security footage, or getting your characterisation from text messages which didn’t do enough to reveal the inner thoughts and motivations of the characters. The third book especially suffered from poor characterisation.
Although I did like the characters, especially Kady and Ezra, I also think that characterisation was quite poor compared to other aspects of this series. And since how much I enjoy a book is usually based on how much I can invest in the characters my enjoyment took a big hit when the characters didn’t live up to my standards.
One thing very disappointing about this series is the complete lack of diversity. Space is inherently gay and therefore science fiction books with no gays are lacking. There is one major side character in books two and three that uses a wheelchair but beside that, representation along any axis is pretty thin on the ground, which is quite disappointing.
I felt there was a ridiculous amount of unneeded heteronormativity throughout the series and the complete absence of people of colour was a mess. Yes, you can argue that “there was this one side character” blah blah but the fact is that all the main cast aside from Ella were able bodied, allocishet, white and neurotypical and that is so boring and so disappointing. Like damn, they even had to establish the AI was DEFINITELY A GUY ROBOT so that he could have a crush on the main girl. Sheesh.
Lets round this one out on a positive. The worldbuilding for this series was pretty good. The format helped a lot, but I enjoyed the construction of the Kerenza colony, the BeiTech Industry and just the general aesthetic of the space ships and space exploration. I definitely think the world felt authentic, like you could imagine this definitely happening in a not that distant future.
Overall, for me The Illuminae Files is a fun series with notable strengths, but some serious flaws too. There were multiple elements that kept me from ever feeling as if I was truly enjoying the books, however, they are genuinely entertaining. The fact is, even though I had all these issues, I still reached for the new book every time they came out. So there’s a definite entertainment factor there that is worth noting.
I don’t think I would ever reread them, but I still applaud Amie Kuafman and Jay Kristoff for constructing such a unique series with such an entertaining format. They definitely did something new with this, and it’s resonated with so many people since I’m in the minority in not being head over heels for this series.
Also, the audiobooks are amazing and the full cast deserve all the praise.
until next time!