Possibly the most brilliant YA science fiction/space fiction series I have ever read (meaning I liked them more than Ender’s Game, sorry mega-fans)! So good that as I write this review, I am itching to read them again. . .
The same day their mining planet of Kerenza is attacked with spaceships and bioweapons by a large corporation, Ezra and Kady end their relationship but must rely on one another to survive the destruction. Framed like a case file against Bei-Tech and its leadership with documentation of the incident against Kerenza, the Illuminae file contains reports, personal interviews, memos, art and design pieces, wiki entries, emails, IMs, video transcripts, and code. The few refugees from Kerenza escape to three nearby ships, science vessel Hypatia, heavy freighter Copernicus, and battlecarrier Alexander, and though the Alexander managed to cripple much of Bei-Tech’s fleet while taking heavy damage, there is still one dreadnought left–the Lincoln–that is coming to finish them off. The only hope of escape is a nearby waypoint, but the Lincoln will find and destroy them long before then. However, the bioweapon Bei-Tech unleashed is mutating into a deadly plague aboard the Copernicus, and the Alexander‘s artificial intelligence, severely damaged in the battle, is wavering between destroying them all or protecting them as it was designed to do. Military leadership is silent leaving everyone panicked.
Meanwhile, Kady and Ezra manage to help each other survive, but get separated aboard the ships: Kady on Hypatia and Ezra aboard the Alexander. Due to immediate need, Ezra is conscripted into the military as a pilot, while Kady proves too difficult. Instead, Kady spends her time hacking the networks in attempts to gain intel and communicate with others to find her mother. On Ezra’s first flight out, he witnesses the Alexander‘s AI shoot missiles at their ship the Copernicus while a few shuttles take flight. Ezra’s flight group is ordered by the AI to destroy all the shuttles and attempts to contact leadership for confirmation but all efforts are blocked by the damaged and dictatorial AI AIDAN. In the aftermath, Kady, who has been secretly working in conjunction with another gifted research hacker aboard the Hypatia, Byron Zhang, learns of Ezra’s court martial. Knowing her mother must have died on the Copernicus, Kady dedicates herself to saving Ezra, even to the point of becoming suicidal in returning to the mayhem and plague-ridden Alexander just to save the last person around that she loves. Will Kady be able to stop AIDAN before it murders everyone or will the Lincoln beat them all to it? Is there any hope of survival?
This second file describes the events at the Heimdall waypoint, where the Kerenza survivors are looking to reach to survive. Daughter of the station’s commander, Hanna Donnelly is planning for a party with her military officer boyfriend, Jackson Merrick, and trying to score some of the local drug known as dust (think marijuana rather than anything hard). Her drug dealer is Niklas Malikov, an outrageous flirt and nephew of the local crime lord who farms lamina, terrifying fast-evolving parasites that manufacture dust. On the night Nik and Hanna are supposed to meet up, a Bei-Tech undercover operative cons Nik and his family into intercepting a secret mission allowing Bei-Tech assassins into the waypoint. Luckily, Nik skips out on the destruction to meet Hanna while the rest of the jump station dissolves into chaos and murder. As the Bei-Tech assassins continue their mission, Nik and Hanna are left as the only two free people on the station, aided by the computer skills of Nik’s cousin Ella. Through Hanna’s lifelong training at strategy and combat due to her father’s obsession and Nik’s determination, wit, and heart, they must battle or outsmart their way through Bei-Tech’s 24 assassins before a second Bei-Tech fleet arrives and their hope for a future is lost for a thousand years.
Honestly, I am trying so hard here not to reveal epic spoilers. I loved every minute of this nail-biting series and want to experience it over and over again. My favorite bits were the IMs because so much of my teen years were spent forming relationships over IM/internet forums. The art and design elements were unexpected but tied together the setting and feel of the story. Addictive. Terrifying. I want more.
While Illuminae was the real stand out, Gemina was not far behind as a solid sequel and may have equaled the first had my pre-pub edition contained the rest of the art intended for the final copy (understandably still in development).
My copies of Illuminae and Gemina are advanced reader copies (that I’ve been foisting on everyone I can). THANK YOU #alaac15, #alaac16, and most especially Penguin Random House for giving them out! Currently this series is tied with one other (coming soon!) for my favorite reads of 2016!
Note: Language, violence, sexual connotations, and visceral descriptors.