Erica’s Pick Of The Week: The Illuminae Files

Whenever I get invested in a series, I start to worry. What if the author does a terrible job with the final book? What if they can’t wrap it up in a way that feels true and satisfying – leaving me wanting more, while making sure that the characters find resolution? What if they can’t stick the landing?

That fear isn’t enough to keep me up at night – I love sleep too much – but I was pretty nervous as I began the final installment of Amie Kaufman and Jay Kristoff’s outstanding Illuminae Files trilogy: OBSIDIO.

Book One, ILLUMINAE, kicked off a sprawling, cinematic sci-fi chase through deep space — complete with murderous conspiracies, wisecracking love interests, a sentient computer, and a mutating virus. Book Two, GEMINA, cranked up the tension, throwing rogue hackers and theoretical physics into the mix. Happily, OBSIDIO maintained the breakneck pace, deepening character arcs and introducing new characters before ending with a massive adrenaline rush and a surprisingly tender closing scene.

Landing, stuck.

The plot of the Illuminae Files is hard to condense, but here’s the bare-bones summary: An illegal mining operation on a backwater planet is attacked by a rival corporation. Most of the surrounding colony is destroyed; two ships of survivors flee to a nearby space station for rescue, pursued by a “cleanup crew” intent on finishing the job. Kady and Ezra are onboard the two ships, trying to escape the killers; Hanna and Nik live on the space station, which comes under attack by the same corporation. And Asha and Rhys are stuck planetside – Asha as a member of the rebels who survived, and Rhys as a member of the occupying force. Each of the books focuses on a different couple, but the action and the stakes escalate in each installment as the teens are brought together.

Technically, the Illuminae Files are science fiction, but they incorporate all sorts of genre-bending twists, including horror (these aren’t for the faint of heart) and political thrillers. But they’re also funny. The banter between the characters is reminiscent of the late, great Firefly, and there’s a definite hint of romance, though it never overpowers the fact that these characters are fighting for their lives.

One of the most intriguing things about the series, however, is the format: each book is basically a case file (hence the series name), including drawings, found documents, interviews, court transcripts, photographs, emails, and more. They’re not a graphic novel, exactly, but there are enough images and unusually-formatted text that it’s not straight prose, either, and it makes for a surprisingly quick read.

The Illuminae Files will appeal to fans of action-oriented scifi, of course – think Battlestar Galactica or Firefly – as well as people who enjoyed Ready Player One, World War Z, and Marie Lu’s Legend series. It’s dark, funny, thrilling, and wildly creative. And it is that rarest of creatures – a series that begins brilliantly and only gets better.

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