AUDIOBOOK REVIEW: Illuminae

This morning, Kady thought breaking up with Ezra was the hardest thing she’d have to do.

This afternoon, her planet was invaded.

The year is 2575, and two rival megacorporations are at war over a planet that’s little more than an ice-covered speck at the edge of the universe. Too bad nobody thought to warn the people living on it. With enemy fire raining down on them, Kady and Ezra—who are barely even talking to each other—are forced to fight their way onto an evacuating fleet, with an enemy warship in hot pursuit.

But their problems are just getting started. A deadly plague has broken out and is mutating, with terrifying results; the fleet’s AI, which should be protecting them, may actually be their enemy; and nobody in charge will say what’s really going on. As Kady hacks into a tangled web of data to find the truth, it’s clear only one person can help her bring it all to light: the ex-boyfriend she swore she’d never speak to again.

Told through a fascinating dossier of hacked documents—including emails, schematics, military files, IMs, medical reports, interviews, and more—Illuminae is the first book in a heart-stopping, high-octane trilogy about lives interrupted, the price of truth, and the courage of everyday heroes.

Title: Illuminae
Authors: Amie Kaufman and Jay Kristoff
Narrators: Olivia Taylor Dudley, Lincoln Hoppe, feat. Full Cast
Published: October 2015
Genre: Sci-Fi
Rating: ★★★★★

Illumine is the latest in my ‘trying the audiobook of books I haven’t liked in the past and it turns out I enjoy them more‘ journey. I’ve never been sure if it was just the hype, I mean, I put about 5 months between me and this book’s release when I finally tried to read it the first time.

Or maybe it was the formatting? With all the extra’s going on I found some parts confusing, and it was difficult to focus on the story. This book is definitely an experience, but not one I wanted to be apart of.

So out comes Gemina. And guys, this cover is gorgeous. Like GORGEOUS! Then people post pictures of the actual book and somehow it’s even prettier in person??? And since I’m super shallow I obviously want it right? Even though I didn’t like the first one. Then my friend Tiffani and I get to talking on Twitter and she tells me about Illumiane’s audiobook. About just how amazing it was to listen to the story while she trekked along a road trip. And that got me thinking.

Maybe I’d like the audiobook better? That’s been the case for the Throne of Glass books, as well as a few others these last few months. So maybe the audiobook is the way to go?

The Book
Illuminae isn’t anything super special on the surface, especially if you’re forgoing all of the extras by listening to it. I have no doubt it’s a more interesting experience if you can actually manage to get through the actual book. But for me that just wasn’t going to happen.

But underneath the layers of a *kinda* trope-y story, we actually get well developed and rounded characters, an interesting set-up, and a story that’s got it’s fair share of turmoil and sadness. As well as a plot that had me on the edge of my seat for the most part.

The characters are Illuminae’s strongest point I think. Ezra’s probably the best, which is a carry over from when I actually read the book. Of course I’m a sucker for the sass-master. Kady really comes into her own towards the end, when she’s made her way to the Alexander in an attempt to rescue Ezra and stop ADIAN.

The side-characters are more hit than they are miss. There were some occasionally that I really didn’t care about, but more often that not I was really invested in what was going on with them. Their backstories, and (in most cases) their final moments. That’s another thing, don’t get too attached to certain characters. Odds are they’ll either die or end up on the wrong side. My one complaint character-wise might be a lack of LGBTQAP+ characters.  We get one mention towards the end of a character with a husband and family, but that’s it. I mean, this takes place over 500 years from now, so some canon queer characters would’ve been really nice.

Sometimes the war going on got a tad confusing. There are a lot of elements here, from a virus, to a full on rebellion, to espionage. It’s a lot to cram into the first book of a trilogy, and I do wish Kaufman and Kristoff had slowed down just a tad. Of course this is what appears to be a solar-system wide conspiracy of sorts, so they have a lot of work to do, and a lot of information to give us if they want to do it right.

The ending is where I think this book is the strongest though. When Kady believes Ezra is dead (a twist I totally forgot about honestly, boy was I relieved when he showed back up at the end!), to the way Kaufman and Kristoff humanize AIDAN and actually make him a character I can sympathize with, even though I’m not a huge fan of the ‘A.I. gone evil’ trope. But it was almost surprising. During my first read I hardly cared about AIDAN or Kady at all, but with the audio they’re both given voices (and tremendous voice actors), so this extra layer of emotion is added and it’s absolutely stunning.

Makes me wish I was seeing it on the big screen actually. But hey, Brad Pitt’s production company bought it, so fingers crossed!

The Audiobook
I’m here to tell you that if you didn’t like Illuminae as a book, (or ‘media-experience’ as I’ve heard some call it) then the audiobook just might be what you’re looking for. I didn’t want all the extra bits, and I knew I would’ve liked Illuminae had it just been the narrative, scrap all the logs and photos/posters and what have you.

And that’s pretty much what we get with the Illuminae audiobook. As well as a full cast to narrate the story for you. There are extras (I was kinda worried about the pages upon pages of lists I remembered) but they’re actually done in this really clever way with three to four voice actors maybe listing off 10 names total. And the effects they gave the voices, the way they fade in and out, it’s pretty awesome.

The voice actors are also top-notch too. Especially Ezra’s. He was my favorite character from reading the book, and having someone actually say his lines, the snark, the sass? It’s so hilarious at points that I actually had to stop the book just to laugh.

The rest of the cast is just as perfect though. Kady’s actress brings the pain and emotion she goes through towards the ending. Even AIDAN’s, which is supposed to be robotic and lifeless, felt human to a degree, and helped in sympathizing with his character. They also bring a lot of life to the side characters, these people we might meet for just a few chapters or even paragraphs. It’s absolutely stunning, and I was so happy to see some returning voices in the Gemina audio-book (yep, totally already listening to Gemina and it’s just as good!)

There are occasional sound-effects as well. Modulators put over character’s voices, the occasional bit of music or space-ship ambiance. There’s even space battles in there that just makes it feel more action-packed.

I truly think the audiobook might be the way to go. Illuminae is a very cinematic book. Everything about it screams ‘MAKE A MOVIE OUT OF ME PLEASE!’ so an audiobook is just one step away from that really. It’s a match made in heaven, and I’m really glad I listened to the people who told me to listen to it.

So if Illuminae wasn’t your thing, but you desperately wanted to like it or give it another shot, definitely try the audiobook. You might want to flip through the physical edition just to look at the downright gorgeous work that went into making it (and there’s no way I’m missing the Marie Lu illustrations in Gemina). Illuminae is definitely a cinematic book, and for now, the audiobook is the closest you’re going to get to getting that movie-theater experience.

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