A Good Trilogy-Ending: Amie Kaufman & Jay Kristoff – Obsidio

After reading Gemina a few weeks ago, I couldn’t wait to find out how this series ended, even though I planned to wait a little. As expected, this final volume brings together the larger story of the previous two books, plus adding a set of new characters and their story. I believe adding a third romantic couple to the mix was a mistake that overloaded an already big book. Also, beware of massive spoilers for Illuminae and Gemina below!

OBSIDIO
by Amie Kaufman and Jay Kristoff

Published by: Knopf, 2018
Ebook: 618 pages
Series: The Illuminae Files #3
My rating: 6,5/10

First line: Crowhurst, G: Perhaps we should get proceedings under way?

Kady, Ezra, Hanna, and Nik narrowly escaped with their lives from the attacks on Heimdall station and now find themselves crammed with 2,000 refugees on the container ship, Mao. With the jump station destroyed and their resources scarce, the only option is to return to Kerenza—but who knows what they’ll find seven months after the invasion?
Meanwhile, Kady’s cousin, Asha, survived the initial BeiTech assault and has joined Kerenza’s ragtag underground resistance. When Rhys—an old flame from Asha’s past—reappears on Kerenza, the two find themselves on opposite sides of the conflict.
With time running out, a final battle will be waged on land and in space, heroes will fall, and hearts will be broken.

This book picks up pretty seamlessly after the ending of Gemina, but in addition to characters that are already known – Kady and Ezra, Nik and Hannah, plus the various side characters – there are two new protagonists in town. Asha Grant, Kady’s cousin, remained on Kerenza IV after the attack and through her eyes, we learn not only that there are still people alive out there, but also what their lives have been like during the last seven months. Let me sum it up for you, it wasn’t pretty. Asha’s romantic interest and our second protagonist is Rhys, a tech specialist working for BeiTech.

The set up for this third galactic romance is pretty amazing, but unfortunately the execution felt very lackluster. As if the authors thought they had to include another romance but didn’t really feel it. And that’s exactly how I felt while reading it. We are introduced to both characters and I liked them well enough. Their romantic backstory, however, was told carelessly in one small chapter – it was definitely not enough to get me invested in their romance at all. Plus, their previous time as a couple and the way they broke up, felt kind of ridiculous, like there had to be some drama and this was the desperate attempt to create it. I found it all really silly, despite liking the characters as such.

But we also follow characters who are old friends by now. Naturally, I needed to know how Kady, Ezra, Hannah, Nik, and AIDAN (let’s not forget AIDAN!) are doing. These kids have their hands full yet again. On the one hand, their united fleet encompasses way more people than their ship can handle – so yay, certain death by oxygen deprevation – they also need some sort of plan on how to move forward. Do they go back to Kerenza in the hopes of using the mobile jump station there? Do they run the other way, knowing that they’re probably all going to die before they find any help? As if that weren’t enough, the situation on the ship gets even worse by overcrowding, uprisings, civilians who are unhappy with command, and… oh yeah, did I mention AIDAN is still there and still as unstable as ever?

While the plot is just as exciting as it was in the first two books, this one suffered from overcrowding in more than one way. Before, there were only two main characters plus a few side characters on which we could concentrate. Following their lives, the ordeals they went through, made for a perfectly thrilling sci-fi adventure. Now we have not two, not four, but six protagonists and all the side characters that surround them, and there was simply not enough time to focus properly on any of them. With Kady/Ezra and Hannah/Nik, that wasn’t so bad because we already knew them. But Asha and Rhys definitely suffered as characters and especially as a couple because there wasn’t enough time spent on their characters or their development. So the emotional impact of their stories remained rather low for me.

The other characters also don’t really get to shine. This book made it even more obvious to me how similar all of them are. Kady, Hannah, and Asha could totally be interchanged – the only things that set them apart are their various specialties. Kady, the computer mastermind, Hannah, the martial arts tactician, and Asha, the nursing intern with a dark-ish backstory… but other than that, they are exactly the same person. They have the same sense of humor, the same desperate need to do the right thing and to save people. I understand why the authors did it that way – these characters are easy to follow, their motives always good, and they kick serious ass. But when you put them all into the same book, this lazy writing becomes more obvious and actually disrupting. You should be able to recognise a character from what they’re saying without needing the “he said”, “she said”. Here, I frequently had to check which characters was talking because they were all so similar that you couldn’t tell otherwise.

That may all sound like I didn’t enjoy the book but the truth is, I read it just as quickly as the others because the writing style works really well. We are still getting transcribed camera footage (and we find out who transcribed it!), chat messages, radio communications, and written letters. It makes for a fast-paced novel without a single boring page and I enjoyed reading this very much. It was mostly afterwards, when I thought about why I liked the book, that I realised how certain aspects of it aren’t all that well done. And it’s not like this third book provided some vital information to bring down BeiTech – Illuminae and Gemina already did enough of that. This was simply the book that puts it all together and gets us the conclusion we have been waiting for.

One more thing I have to mention is AIDAN. That crazy computer is probably the best developed character in this series. He is both very simple in that he adheres to the rules programmed into him, and at the same time incredibly complex because he has learned to interpret and re-interpret these rules. However you describe him, I have grown to love that AI over the course of these novels and I liked how his story line was ended. All things considered, this was another fun novel from a great author duo.

MY RATING: 6,5/10 – Quite good

Die Hard in Space: Amie Kaufman & Jay Kristoff – Gemina

It’s been a while since I read Illuminae and from what I read on the internet, that’s a good thing. It means, I came to this second book in the trilogy with fresh(ish) eyes. Most reviews mention that if Gemina has a fault, it’s that it’s too similar to the first book. But if you let enough time pass between the books, that’s not a problem. For me, this was even better than Illuminae and I flew through the 663 pages in only two days. So yay, go me! Spoilers for Illuminae below!

GEMINA
by Amie Kaufman and Jay Kristoff

Published by: Knopf Books, 2016
Hardcover: 663 pages
Series: The Illuminae Files #2
My rating: 8/10

First sentence: …over seven hundred thousand employees across dozens of colonized worlds. Is it that difficult to believe?

Moving to a space station at the edge of the galaxy was always going to be the death of Hanna’s social life. Nobody said it might actually get her killed.
The sci-fi saga that began with the breakout bestseller Illuminae continues on board the Jump Station Heimdall, where two new characters will confront the next wave of the BeiTech assault.
Hanna is the station captain’s pampered daughter; Nik the reluctant member of a notorious crime family. But while the pair are struggling with the realities of life aboard the galaxy’s most boring space station, little do they know that Kady Grant and the Hypatia are headed right toward Heimdall, carrying news of the Kerenza invasion.
When an elite BeiTech strike team invades the station, Hanna and Nik are thrown together to defend their home. But alien predators are picking off the station residents one by one, and a malfunction in the station’s wormhole means the space-time continuum might be ripped in two before dinner. Soon Hanna and Nik aren’t just fighting for their own survival; the fate of everyone on the Hypatia—and possibly the known universe—is in their hands.
But relax. They’ve totally got this. They hope.

Hanna Donnelly is the Heimdall station captain’s daughter and while she may seem like daddy’s little princess at first glance, there’s more to her than meets the eye. Nik Malikov is a member of the House of Knives, a crime syndicate that deals drugs, is as corrupt as you’d expect, and has a history of murder. But he’s also just a teenage boy who is more than the tattoos he wears. He also has a serious crush on Hanna.

If you’ve read the first book, you know that the ship Hypatia is currently on its way to Heimdall station to jump through the station’s wormhole. You will also know that the BeiTech Corporation is trying to do its very best to keep that from happening. So, as any corrupt corporation trying to hide its dirty tracks would, they send a team of criminals to take over the station and let a fleet of drone ships through to the Hypatia to eliminate it. Except that team didn’t expect to meet resistance by a couple of teenagers with serious skills…

I loved everything about this book! The way it is written is the same as in Illuminae – we get chat  protocols, descriptions of surveillance footage, journal entries (featuring really lovely artwork!), transcripts of radio communications and so on. It may feel like a gimmick and maybe it is, but that doesn’t mean it was any less fun to read. The chapters were also very short and I believe the comination of interesting media and short chapters is what made me read this book so quickly. Oh, and also that the plot happened to keep me at the edge of my seat for hours on end.

It was so easy to like the characters, right from the start. Hanna is a kick-ass girl who may be a bit spoiled (I mean who spends that amount of money on an outfit?!) but she’s smart and resourceful, she’s incredibly brave, and she wants to do what is right, even if it means she may not make it out of this alive. Nik may come across as cocky, but it’s also clear from the beginning, that he is hiding things, that there are mysteries in his past, that he may not exactly be happy with his life as a crime lord’s son. The guy may need some serious grammar lessons, but his heart is in the right place. I also really liked his cousin, Ella, whose hacking skills save the protagonists’ asses on more than one occasion.

The plot reminded me very much of Die Hard (thus the title of this post). While most of the population of Heimdall is held as hostages or locked away somewhere, Hanna and Nik are free to run around and make the terrorists’ lives as hard as possible. As soon as shit hits the fan, there is barely a moment of rest for our heroes. This was so much fun to read, almost like watching a blockbuster movie unfold in your mind. There are action-packed scenes, lovely character moments, and a beautiful development of relationships. I was all the more impressed with that last point because in the media the authors chose to use, there is no description of what the characters were feeling at any given time. It all happens through what they say or do and occasionally through the description of the video footage where the (unknown) transcriber speculates about their emotions.

To say this was a riveting thrill-ride is an understatement. I couldn’t have put this book down if I wanted to! So much happens and if it had simply been two teenagers defending their space station, that would have been enough for me. But Kristoff and Kaufman don’t mess around. There is quite the twist at the end that left me sitting there, mouth agape, thinking: “Shiiiiit, how are they going to fix this mess?” I may even have shed a tear or two because, despite all the action, there is always this undertone of despair. Our characters have lost people they love, their lives as they knew them are definitely over, no matter how this ends, and they don’t even get a moment to simply sit down and grieve.

While I liked the ending, it was clearly only the build up to the last book in the trilogy. I want to wait a while before I read that one because that worked really well for me this time, but I honestly don’t know that I can. I need to know what happens next, I want to feel that thrill of a truly exciting story again, and even though the romance is always visible from miles ahead, I can’t wait to see what butterfly-inducing couple this fabulous author duo comes up with next.

MY RATING: 8/10 – Excellent!

Amie Kaufman & Jay Kristoff – Illuminae

This book has been surrounded by enormous hype ever since it came out. Without that hype, I wouldn’t ever have thought of picking it up. The cover, although I like the colors, didn’t really speak to me and the synopsis just doesn’t do the story justice. So thank you internet, once again, for pushing stuff onto me that ends up being just as awesome as you said.

illuminaeILLUMINAE
by Amie Kaufman & Jay Kristoff

Published by: Knopf Books for Young Readers, 2015
Ebook: 608 pages
Series: The Illuminae Files #1
My rating: 8/10

First sentence: So here’s the file that almost killed me, Director.

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.

divider1

We all know the kind of book that isn’t written in prose but is made up of interview transcriptions, chat messages, letters and so on. Illuminae is one such book, but the format is used very cleverly, not just to create a visually interesting book but also to deliver a whole new level of emotional punch. Kady and Ezra had just broken up and now their planet has been invaded, they are refugees on big space ships and they both have bigger things to think about than their petty relationship fight.

So, fine. Relationship drama is sent backstage in favor of the more urgent threat of the BeiTech ship pursuing them (most likely to kill any survivors from the attack on their home planet, Kerenza), the space ships need to deal with all the additional people they are now carrying – you know, feeding them, treating wounds, giving them a sleeping place, and so on. Families have been torn apart, some dead, others separated with one family member on each of the ships. In addition, a disease is breaking out that nobody seems to be able to cure just yet. So yeah… things are looking pretty damn miserable.

The author-duo throws their protagonists into a horrible, horrible situation and then makes them deal with it beautifully. Kady, a genius with a computer, tries to figure things out by hacking into the system, looking for classified information, anything to make sense of what happened. Ezra, in the meantime, becomes a pilot and joins the fight in his own – much more immediately dangerous – way. And despite this, these two still think about each other and that stupid fight they had. Things just gained a new perspective and they realise that they love each other, never mind the fight.

Through e-mails, chat messages, surveillance footage (described in prose), and snippets of the Alexander‘s AI (the Alexander is one of the three ships carrying our refugees), a story unfolds that is both thrilling and exciting as well as heartbreaking. Actually, mostly heartbreaking. At some points, it was the things that weren’t said that kick you in the face the most. Both Kady and Ezra are suffering from PTSD, both have lost family members – or at the very least they have no idea if their families are still alive and whether they got infected with the Phobos virus. And the only way they can hold on to each other and to life itself, is by talking across two space ships, grasping at the last bit of the life they had.

Plot-wise, I am going to shut up here. There is a lot of potential for spoilers and I am steering right clear of that. But I can say that Illuminae started out incredibly exciting, a real page-turner, then hits a slumpy bit where things don’t seem to move forward, where conversations seem to repeat, where I was waiting for something new to happen. And then it does. And, boy, it doesn’t let off until the very end. There are some plot twists in store that actually made me cry, there are several crowning moments of awesome, and there were times when I was just so proud of Kady – as if she were my friend or sister or something – where I marvelled at her bravery. The same goes for Ezra but Kady was just my heroine. You know, the kind of character that makes you wish you were as brave as her.

Apart from epic space battles and a virus gone crazy, Illuminae examines several difficult themes. The way Kady and Ezra deal with their PTSD, how creating artifiction intelligence may or may not be a smart thing to do, how people with power have to make impossible decisions for the greater good. These characters, even the minor ones, are faced with terrible, impossible situations and in most cases there is no right or wrong answer. There is only death or more death. Morality, gut feeling, none of those help you when you are responsible for thousands of lives and on the run. It’s a hard book to read and I am all the more impressed that it got to me so much with the chosen style. Because we rarely – if ever – read about people’s feelings or thoughts, all of these have to be conveyed through other means. And pulling that off is an amazing feat!

Another great thing was that I was never sure how the book would end. It had that anything-goes-feeling to it, where it could end in complete disaster, or with a bittersweet half-victory, or even with everything turning out fine-ish (I mean, lots of people die way before the end, so “fine” is a relative term here). The ending chosen by the authors was better than I could have imagined. I don’t mean better as in “all was well” but better as in it makes a better story. I’m also glad I waited this long to read the book because now I won’t have to wait so long for the sequel. And believe me, after that ending, I am more than excited.

MY RATING: 8/10 – Excellent!

divider1

Second opinions:

Save

Jay Kristoff – Stormdancer

I was super excited to get an e-ARC of this book. It has lived through some considerable pre-publication hype and, I admit yet again to be a influenced by covers, the art on the US edition is stunning. I also want to say how nice and friendly the publisher is. My e-book copy was a PDF-file with tiny print, so I wrote them an e-mail asking for an epub copy. Not only did they reply within a few hours but I also got an epub copy right away. I haven’t had much experience with publishers and ARCs, so I was surprised and very happy how friendly they were. Big thumbs up for being nice to reviewers! And yes, little things like this will make me more inclined to purchase other books from St. Martin’s Press and keep an eye on their catalogue. Also, this book happens to be really good.

STORMDANCER
by Jay Kristoff

published: St. Martin’s Press, 2012
ISBN: 1250017912
pages: 337
copy: ebook via NetGalley
series: The Lotus War #1

my rating: 5,5/10

first sentence: As the iron war club scythed toward her head, Yukiko couldn’t help wishing she’d listened to her father.

A DYING LAND
The Shima Imperium verges on the brink of environmental collapse; an island nation once rich in tradition and myth, now decimated by clockwork industrialization and the machine-worshipers of the Lotus Guild. The skies are red as blood, the land is choked with toxic pollution, and the great spirit animals that once roamed its wilds have departed forever.
AN IMPOSSIBLE QUEST
The hunters of Shima’s imperial court are charged by their Shōgun to capture a thunder tiger – a legendary creature, half-eagle, half-tiger. But any fool knows the beasts have been extinct for more than a century, and the price of failing the Shōgun is death.
A HIDDEN GIFT
Yukiko is a child of the Fox clan, possessed of a talent that if discovered, would see her executed by the Lotus Guild. Accompanying her father on the Shōgun’s hunt, she finds herself stranded: a young woman alone in Shima’s last wilderness, with only a furious, crippled thunder tiger for company. Even though she can hear his thoughts, even though she saved his life, all she knows for certain is he’d rather see her dead than help her.

But together, the pair will form an indomitable friendship, and rise to challenge the might of an empire.

The lotus must bloom.

I was tempted to give this book an 8 out of 10 for a while. It starts out really, really good. We are thrown into a convincing steampunk world that isn’t just gears on corsets and blimps flying around for no good reason. There is one great idea – the use of the lotus plant for pretty much everything – that defines an entire nation and culture. Lotus is used for fuelling machinery, it’s used as weed for smoking, the reddish smoke it produces pullutes the sky and gives the entire book a feel of its own. The cover – I’m going to rave about it some more later – captures all of this brilliantly. It’s not only black and red because that looks cool, but because it is really part of the story. Another compliment to the publishers.
As great as the idea may be, I would have loved to get into a little more depth when it comes to world-building. What we know so far sounds plausible and, like I said, makes for a fantastic and original world. But it’s simply left at that and we don’t get to find out (yet!) the intricacies of how this came to pass and how it all fits into the society that was created. My hopes lie in the next instalment…

The writing style is very descriptive, sometimes to the point where it gets a little too much. Then again, this is a lush world that never lets us forget how much lotus has taken over everyday life. Personally, I’d rather have too much description than too little so I’m totally fine with this. If descriptions make the character development suffer though, that’s a different thing. Characters – as readers of this blog will know by now – are the most important thing for me. In the beginning of the story, we had a cast of characters and I noticed that Yukiko’s father actually stole the show from her. He was interesting. He was obviously fighting some internal dilemma, some demons of the past, and I cared for him immediately.

Yukiko, our protagonist, stays in the background for quite a while and when she does become the main focus of the story, I found her too passive. Except for the defining moment when she takes matters into her own hands, starting this whole adventure, she usually just listens to what people say, executes plans and reacts. She was likable enough but too vague a character for my taste and definitely not active enough.

Now to the story. It starts our really, really good. Original ideas paired with a compelling world make for a nice adventure. You want to discover this place, you want to learn what makes it tick and how this society works. And of course, you want to learn how to train your arashitora. The thunder tiger was my personal hero of this story. He starts out as a beast, a wild creature that needs freedom and flight and despises humanity for having ruined their environment. When he bonds with Yukiko, things happened a little too fast for my taste. “Taming” (if you can call it that) an animal, mythological or not, should take more time. I didn’t really believe the creation of their bond but I absolutely loved how it grew over time. Once they’re friends, their emotions get tangible and I cared whether they were together or not. This makes for some great scenes later on in the book (and that’s all I’m going to say, so as not to spoil).

I do have one big pet peeve with this book. The plot, while starting out great, becomes predictable and kind of lazy later on. It would be possible to describe the entire plot of the book in one simple sentence. And condensed to such a level, it’s not very original. Girl bonds with mythological creature. Tries to save empire from evil. My problem with this was that it was clear what the quest was too early on and there weren’t realy any twists to keep me guessing. The climax was partly over-dramatic and partly even boring. We knew what was going to happen.

As for the love story, it was also extremely predictable, but I still enjoyed reading about it. I like that it doesn’t take up a lot of the book, it’s sort of a sub-plot in the background. Again, I would have liked more information on the romantic interest’s background and daily life but I suppose I can’t have it all. There are  more books coming, after all. And I am waiting for them eagerly.

Here’s the cover rant and rave:

It is perfect! Down to the nine-tailed fox tattoo on Yukiko’s right arm. The arashitora looks just like it’s described in the story and it’s so refreshing to have a cover depict the actual main character. I remember some incident where a book featured a dark-skinned protagonist and the cover showed the whitest girl possible. Here, you can tell a lot of thought went into the cover art. I found some work-in-progress and alternate covers for this book but ultimately, they went with the best one. (Alternate covers found on in this great Jason Chan interview about the cover evolution)

On a side note, I’m glad I’m not the only one who has noticed that Jay Kristoff looks a lot like the Foo Fighters’ Dave Grohl. Yummy is all I say. (Not that this has any impact on the review at all…)

THE GOOD: Interesting world, descriptive writing and a lot of potential for the next book.
THE BAD: Some things are left unexplored, the main plot was a bit predictable.
THE VERDICT: Recommended. If you like steampunk or Japan or flying mythological creatures bonding with young girls, you will enjoy this a lot. And it makes you want more!

RATING: 5,5/10 A quite good read.

The Lotus War:

  1. Stormdancer
  2. untitled

Other reviews:

Also, check out this awesome alternative cover – the Thunder Tiger edition – as found on Jay Kristoff’s blog: