July 8, 2020

Series Review: The Illuminae Files

I did it, friends. I finally listened to/read The Illuminae Files, and it was a brilliant series binge. (Kudos go to Hannah for talking me into reading the series by going the double format route, and kudos to Macky & Kelly for being my moral support as I experienced the first two books.)

The Illuminae Files is a young adult sci-fi trilogy told via a dossier (consisting of chat transcripts, emails, video analysis, graphs, data streams, journal entries, and more) that have been compiled in order to be used for information dissemination, as well as evidence in a court case against an evil corporation known as BeiTech. Each novel in the series focuses on different characters, settings and situations, all tied together by the far-reaching conspiracy that was set into motion at the beginning, and they are all equally fascinating in different ways. 

I’m not a big sci-fi reader, but this series was so good. I was impressed by the way each story was constructed, especially considering that all three books have unique plot structures. I’m sure a lot of planning went into figuring out how information (or the lack thereof) would be presented, and how each narrative character would be portrayed in a way that made their personalities really pop off the page — and it honestly all paid off. While it took a little time to get me hooked on each book, once I was in, I was all in. I was definitely emotionally invested in the outcome of every single story (to the point where I wanted to occasionally throw whichever book I was currently across the room or burst into tears), and I just constantly needed to know what would happen next.

I’m highly impressed by what Amie Kaufman and Jay Kristoff managed to do with this trilogy. Even knowing to expect the unique format, it still surprised me at every turn (both in terms of how it was adapted to audio and what sort of illustrations would pop up). I really appreciate how they were able to cobble together all these things in a way that still let the readers experience a cohesive story with complex characters, filled with tension, action and emotion. I really enjoyed the time I spent poring over The Illuminae Files, and can now join the chorus of other readers who insist you should definitely give the series a try. (Caveat, however, I would recommend doing the double format route of audiobook and physical copy because the combination enhanced my own reading experience. I would have enjoyed it if singularly experienced in either format, but it definitely felt richer and more well-rounded to do it this way. Plus, that way you don’t miss the incredible audio production and narrators or the really cool illustrations and formatting on the page!)

Illuminae (The Illuminae Files #1) was published on October 20, 2015. (Buy the book!*)
Gemina (The Illuminae Files #2) was published on October 18, 2016. (Buy the book!*)
Obsidio (The Illuminae Files #3) was published on March 13, 2018. (Buy the book!*)
All three titles were published by Alfred A. Knopf Books for Young Readers.
* All purchase links are affiliate links, so if you purchase through them, I get a small percentage.

If you wanted to know what I thought of each individual book, you're in luck! I thought it'd be fun to share mini-reviews of each title below.

The series kicks off with Illuminae, which centers around a teen (ex) couple: Kady Grant and Ezra Mason. The two of them, along with a number of others, have managed to escape the attack on the Kerenza mining colony and are now on board the ships on the escaping fleet (consisting of vessels Copernicus, Hypatia and Alexander). But not everything is as it seems, and the two of them soon find themselves swept up in a terrible conspiracy involving the BeiTech corporation and AIDAN (the Alexander’s AI). The story starts off slow, as we get to know these two and hear about how they ended up where they are now. But things escalate fairly quickly, and soon, I found myself on the edge of my seat as they both try to find ways to make right all the things that have gone or could possibly go wrong. It was exciting and terrifying and a constant emotional roller coaster of an experience, and I was living for every second of it (especially after the first 10% of the audio). The ending felt deeply satisfying, but also left me wanting more… so I dove straight into book two.

I'll admit to being skeptical about Gemina at the start, as the characters and setting were completely different from its predecessor. This novel is set on Heimdall Space Station, and follows the portion of the BeiTech conspiracy that involves an attack on the station in an effort to liquidate unnecessary parties and cover up more tracks. The story is told primarily through the perspective of two new characters: Hanna Donnelly (the space station's "princess", as she's the daughter of the station's captain and enjoys indulging in a good time) and Nik Malikov (a member of the crime family known as the House of Knives). Much like Illuminae, the story started off slower in order to really give the reader a chance to get a feel for the setting and to know these two new characters. Any skepticism I felt towards this sequel evaporated fairly quickly, as it doesn't take long to get to the bulk of the action and suspense in the story. Hanna and Nik, along with Nik's cousin Ella, end up working together in order to fight off the enemy that has invaded the space station, and it was really cool and really stressful to watch these three work. (Seriously, if I thought Illuminae was stressful, it had nothing on Gemina.) I really liked the set-up, fell in love with these characters and their relationships (Hanna *bleeping* Donnelly, am I right?) and was totally consumed by the book up until the very end (which was incredibly satisfying, but left enough loose threads that I needed to know what would happen next.

I did pick up Obsidio right away, curious as to how the authors would choose to conclude the trilogy. I can't really get into the specifics of this story since it spoils the first two, but suffice to say that it is directly affected by the consequences and events in the other books and wraps things up for these characters (including two new ones) and their stories. While I wasn't surprised to discover the beginning of this one was also slow (and for the same reason - to give readers a sense of place and the new narrators), it took me noticeably longer than it had before to really get into the story. I'll chalk that up to not really clicking with the narrators (Asha Grant, Kady's cousin who works for the hospital on Kerenza, and Rhys Lindstrom, a technician with BeiTech) or the actual plot early on. Truthfully, it fell a little flat for me at the start (and I can see why Macky struggled with it the first time he picked it up). But eventually, thanks to the additional plot threads and seeing it all woven together, I found myself hooked on the story once again. The latter half, without a doubt, matched how compelling and emotional the other two books were! While I think this is overall the weakest installment, I still found it a satisfying way to end this saga overall.


  1. I was definitely a little wary going into this series cause I'm not a big sci-fi reader either, and wasn't sure how I'd get on with the format, but I was so pleasantly surprised! I think going back and forth with the audiobook and physical books made all the difference, and really made it such an immersive experience.

    -Heather | Nerdy By Nature Blog


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