I had medium expectations for this book, despite the almost overwhelmingly positive reviews from everyone I know who’s read it. Jay Kristoff’s writing never completely gels for me, but he’s always an interesting author, and the small writing issues I usually have with him don’t matter in the grand scheme, so I keep reading his stuff. The two books I’ve read by his co-author, Amie Kaufman, I haven’t been very impressed with. So I kept my expectations low on purpose. This turned out to be a good idea, because this book did not blow my mind, as was promised.
It was fun and entertaining, but I think the unusual format is primarily responsible for most people’s reactions, because the story is really pretty standard for YA and for sci-fi. It’s like the authors pulled in every cool thing they could think of from Battlestar Galactica and 2001: A Space Odyssey and stories about zombies and viruses and wherever and stirred them all up in a cosmic soup of adventure. I am not opposed to this form of writing; I think it can be very successful. But for whatever reason, the combination of it all together, with the romance, and the case-file format (more on this in a bit) just summed up to be fun and okay for me, not anything that was hard-hitting emotionally. It’s like my brain was too distracted by everything to really latch onto the story.
The format of the book is very fun, mostly because nothing like it has really been done before, not because it’s done in such a way that is particularly amazing. The whole book is structured as a case-file compiled on behalf of the CEO of a large company, by a group that calls itself “Illuminae”. The case-file documents track the story of two young inhabitants of an illegal mining operation based on an out of the way ice planet. The operation is destroyed by a rival corporation, and most of the people on the planet are killed. The survivors end up on a race through space to a functioning gate to get back to civilization, as the corporation tracks them tries to eliminate the rest of the survivors as well. This involves the deploying of a genetically engineered virus, and lots of nukes. The Terran ship that responded to the distress beacon has an AI that is damaged in the battle, and on top of everything else, begins to go mad and turn against the survivors, “for their own good.” It’s all very twisty and exciting, and I wish it would have worked better for me.
Our heroes are Kady, a young hacker, and Ezra, who is recruited into being a pilot on the journey. Kady and Ezra used to date, until she broke up with him on the morning their planet was destroyed. The files (which consist of chat transcripts, emails, voice logs, transcriptions of surveillance video, and files from the mad A.I, AIDAN, among other things) follow Kady and Ezra specifically, which is a bit puzzling until you get to the end and find out why.
The only thing in this book that really and truly grabbed me was the end, at which point SPOILER the mad A.I. begins to question itself and really becomes a fascinating character. His relationship with Kady was enthralling, and what happens to them on the ship as all those affected by the virus tear each other apart had me so stressed out END SPOILER. It was harrowing and nerve-wracking, and surprisingly affecting. Sadly, this was undercut somewhat by the very end of the book, but considering the genre, I shouldn’t really have been that surprised how it turned out.
All in all, this is a book you should probably check out, since my reaction doesn’t seem to be the most common. I will be reading the sequels, though. I’m hoping as it goes on, the story will become more about itself rather than feeling like bits and pieces taken from everywhere else. I think that’s another reason I enjoyed the ending more than the beginning–it finally began to gel together.