The Illuminae Files by Amie Kaufman and Jay Kristoff is a young adult science fiction novel that follows the main characters, Kady Grant and Ezra Mason. At the start of the story, the two are living on the planet Karenza which has been illegally colonized as part of a mining operation until it is attacked by a mega-corporation. All of the citizens, including Kady and Ezra, evacuate. The two end up on separate rescue ships as the enemy ship chases them across space. Things quickly start to go wrong: the AI system, dubbed AIDAN, running one of the ships might be evil, and a plague has broken out on one of the three ships. Although living on separate ships, the two communicate through email and later text after Kady hacks the commander’s messaging system. As casualties increase and conditions worsen, Kady and Ezra attempt to uncover what is really going on and how they can save at least some of the citizens before it is too late.
A unique and striking feature of this book is the page layout. Although many of the pages are relatively simple, just transcripts of interviews, many of them are also complex images with white-on-black text laid out in symbolic patterns. These artistic pages most often happen during crucial moments in the story to keep the reader on their toes and fully engaged.
The diversity of the page content does not stop simply at the layout. The authors utilize unconventional methods to convey information to their readers. In the book, there are emails, text exchanges, call logs, and reports written based on security footage. The story is constructed as though it was compiled after the fact, so most pages include a little note at the top with a comment about the content.
This unique way of telling the story works relatively well in The Illuminae Files. Although at some points I felt annoyed to have to do so much work to decipher what was on the page (including literally turning the book sideways in order to follow the story), it was mostly an enhancement that kept the reader engaged. The basic plot is a little simple; a boy-meets-girl romance arc drives the inter-character drama. However, the science fiction elements alongside the stylistic choices help the book to still feel fresh and new.
In their notes at the end of the book, the authors discuss how they worked to present accurate scientific details in their story by consulting with doctors, astrophysicists, and other experts. Their research definitely comes through in the writing and sets the book apart from other young adult science fiction books. Although the book is quite long, at almost 600 pages, The Illuminae Files is a quick and engaging read, especially since many pages have very little text. The plot is fast-paced and the twists are interesting, if a little predictable. There is a fair bit of gore and violence included in this book, but nothing particularly out of the ordinary for stories within its genre. The Illuminae Files is an action-packed story that could make for some great summer reading, especially since there are two more books in the series!