Illuminae blew me away. The story is told not in a conventional narrative, but in a compilation of hacked files, interviews, reports, schematics, instant messages, and descriptions of security footage. I've seen a few books that use this style, like The Dead House, and I haven't seen it be truly effective until now. This style does a great job of immersing you in the story and the world with crazy amounts of details. The variety of narrative plays with how the story is conveyed: different points of view, and comments in the margins. I like the different word density of each chapter and how the author plays with the tempo of the story. Some pages, mostly near the end, are so incredibly artistic and unique that it brings to mind the amazing post-modern work of Mark Z. Danielewski. The typography captures the mood of the scene and it's just plain beautiful.
I liked the characters right from the beginning. Kady and Ezra's testimonies about the disaster that changed their lives, killed their friends and family, and destroyed the only home they ever knew were full of snark and defiance towards those questioning them and each other. Their romance is sweet and organic, but doesn't overpower the story. It figures largely in the beginning, but when the greater conflicts start rearing their ugly heads, it takes a backseat while still affecting the relevant characters. I liked that they were two distinctly different people and had a lot of disagreements, fights, and resentment. However, both of them had similar angst and pain over the horrific events that destroyed everything.
Initially the plot sounded like way too many things all together, but each story line fits together like a well crafted puzzle. There are three main conflicts: the rival megacorporation out to kill them, the rogue killer AI called AIDAN, and the airborne, mutated bioweapon that causes extreme rage and violence in the afflicted. Once I started the story, it felt that everything fit together organically and nothing seemed out of place or overpowering. The rival megacorporation takes a bit of a back seat near the middle simply due to proximity, but comes back with a vengeance at the very end. AIDAN and the rage filled infected people are more immediate threats. AIDAN is malfunctioning and has become more than he is supposed to be. I don't consider him evil, much like HAL 9000, and he learned things like humor and sarcasm by the end of the book. The infected people are super creepy and the disease is airborne. They start out with a fever and then end delusional and murderous with the intelligence of the person they once were. Not only do they have loved ones faces, but they can strategize and lure prey. All of them hate being looked at and that one common thread just turns the creep factor up to eleven.
Illuminae is an epic science fiction adventure with a healthy dose of horror that has made it into my favorite books of the year. I didn't find anything lacking or annoying. The writing flows well and had me at the edge of my seat for most of the story. The different styles of narrative and type lend a freshness and provide a unique vehicle for the story. This concept has always interested me, but I've never seen it executed as well as this. I am so incredibly excited for the rest of the series that I can't stand it!
My rating: 5/5 fishmuffins
* Note that I have an ARC and the images may look different in the finished copy.