***Warning: This review contains unmarked spoilers from “Illuminae”, “Gemina” and “Obsidio”. I highly recommend you read all three lest you miss a wonderful reading experience.***
It’s the final installment of Amie Kaufman & Jay Kristoff’s highly praised, highly original and highly anticipated “Illuminae Files” trilogy, and boy have I been waiting for this for a while. If you’re wondering why I’ve stalled with reviewing this, it’s because my life’s been a bit busy. However, there is no way I would ever forget about reading this novel and not give my two cents for everyone who watches Reader’s Boulevard.
Anyway, let’s discuss “Obsidio” and whether or not it brings closure to one of my favorite science fiction trilogies of all time. Does it succeed like its predecessors?
After the events of both “Illuminae” and “Gemina”, the Heimdall Jump Station is destroyed and the universe is still intact, leaving the survivors of Kerenza’s invasion on the Hypathia with zero chance of returning to Earth and not enough oxygen to return back to the war-torn planet. Determined to testify against BeiTech Industries for their attempted genocide and various war crimes committed by the mega-corporation, our four main characters—Kady Grant, Ezra Mason, Hanna Donnelley, Nik Malikov and the reformed artificial intelligence companion, AIDAN—must find a way to save themselves and the Hypathia’s survivors while drifting between from remains of the Heimdall back to what remains on Kerenza IV.
And this time, they have the Mao, Cerberus Falk’s fighter ship. Now theirs.
Meanwhile, there are remaining Kerenzan citizens still alive from the colony’s destruction, as well as BeiTech soldiers stranded and occupying the desolate planet. Enter Asha Grant, Kady’s cousin and member of the resistance moment trying to take
back the colony from BeiTech. Unfortunately, Rhys Lindstrom, her ex-boyfriend from Earth, is among the BeiTech mercenaries who helped destroy her home-away-from-home. Now they’re both trapped between bitter reunion and hostile coexistence on the icy planet.
However, their drama is the least of their problems. Using the Kerenzan civilians as forced labor to extract fuel for their stranded ship, BeiTech’s mercenaries intend to remove every trace of their invasion once and for all. Will all the sacrifices and tribulations faced by our heroes be for nothing, and will BeiTech succeed in their war crimes? Do Amie Kaufman and Jay Kristoff have an obsession with forcing young adult romances where there doesn’t need to be?
Despite how much I’ve been praising this trilogy for its ambition and creative storytelling, there is one aspect of this which can be distracting for some readers: it is visibly repetitive when it comes to plot points and characters. I mean, think about it: we have a male and female teenager who are trying to survive the consequences of Kerenza’s destruction, both of whom seemingly don’t like each other, but are forced to work together for the rest of the galaxy to hear their story.
In the first two books they were more tolerable because of their situations: Kady and Ezra broke up not long before the invasion happened, were separated on different ships and depended on each other to survive before they got back together (plus, I felt her believing Ezra to be dead in the last third of “Illuminae” helped make her highly appreciate him in her life even more). In “Gemina”, Hanna and Nik came from two different worlds living on the same spacecraft, with her a bored commander’s daughter and him a mobster’s kid exiled on the Heimdall. They rarely—if ever—talked to each other outside of dealing drugs, which made it compelling when they needed each other as well in order to survive BeiTech’s attempted cover-up.
With “Obsidio”, it’s essentially Kady and Ezra again but with the ex-boyfriend working for the enemy (how big is this infinite universe of theirs again?). Why not switch it up a bit? If it’s the far future, why not have it be a couple you’ve never seen before? Maybe have them LGBT, two estranged family members, former friends, or have them be together early on?
While we’re at it, why not have it be where the two protagonists don’t fall in love by the end of the book? I know this is a strange thing to have in young adult novels given the specific demographic, but there doesn’t always need to be a romantic subplot involved. In “Aliens”, Ripley didn’t need to fall in love with Bishop or Hudson by the end of the film.
Alright, I’m done ranting. What do I think of this now? Honestly, despite this little pet peeve, this has to be the most intense and well-choreographed novel I’ve read recently. Say what you will about the previous two novels and how many characters there are, but Kaufman and Kristoff knew to keep the narrative fixated on the two protagonists. With “Obsidio”, there’s the four previous main characters plus AIDAN and the two heroes on Kerenza, all packed in 600 pages. And EVERYBODY gets equal focus.
When I finished reading “Gemina”, I remember wanting to see more interactions between all of the protagonists, and we get plenty of great scenes like Ezra & Nik discussing strategy and their love lives, complete with quips about their accomplishments. Followed by that’s another great scene where Hanna, Nik’s tech-savvy cousin Ella and Kady talk about their plans to leave SOMETHING for their story to be told in case of the worst, leading to the latter saying this book’s most poignant line, “Live a life worth dying for.”
Much like a Marvel fan seeing the Avengers onscreen for the first time, I didn’t get bored listening to them interact and work off of each other. My favorite scene of them (aside from the second-to-last chapter) has to be when Ezra, Kady, Ella, Nik and Hanna are formulating a plan to take back the Mao from Garver’s mutiny—in comic-form drawn by Marie Lu no less. My third favorite also has to be with every moment involving
AIDAN still being an inhuman treasure, turning from HAL 9000 into GLaDOS (seriously, that scene with Nik’s cigarette had me laughing!).
The other two main characters are interesting as well. Rhys Lindstrom is clearly not happy about his position. He’s ethically sound yet quiet with himself and wants to do the right thing even though he’s on the side that wants to commit genocide. Even though the trope of the boyfriend being with the bad guys has been done to death, it’s still fascinating to see him juggle with being humane and knowing he’s placed himself on the side that is ethically wrong. Rhys isn’t a monster, but he knows speaking out against his comrades & superiors will risk him his life. He kind of reminds me of Elias from “An Ember in the Ashes” (and yes I’m going to review Reaper at the Gates soon!).
The same can be said for Asha Grant. At first, I felt like she was basically a second version of her cousin Kady, and yes you can sometimes find it hard to distinguish the two, but there are distinguished differences that separate them from their relatives. For one, Asha isn’t a teen hacker with a prodigal mind, but instead a normal teenage girl who made mistake and adjusts to them. Granted I think we could’ve used more dialogue of her and her sister, since it is a driving factor in why she’s on Kerenza, but it is refreshing to have a protagonist who isn’t prodigal or perfect.
I also like the addition of realism and consequence, such as some members of the Heimdall questioning why they should listen to the kids, while at the same time you know they only care about their survival. In my first review of the trilogy, I mentioned these books having elements of a creepypasta and “Aliens”, but there’s also nods towards “Starship Troopers”, anime, “Interstellar”, etc. This world may have familiarities, but it definitely knows how to stand on its own.
Once again, the format of classified documents and files makes the center stage of this space opera. Amie Kaufman and Jay Kristoff still know how to craft a story from this unique style that makes each page feel like a government dossier. Recovered emails, transcripts, notes and video footage descriptions paint a futuristic world that is harsh, realistic and awfully familiar in how immoral some humans can be in certain situations. Reading this blurs the line between what you’ve seen on the news and what you’re reading. You are with the characters every step of the way. The stakes of what’s about to be lost are clearer than before, and it feels like real lives are on the line based on each choice made.
If I had to choose one other big problem, I felt the reveal of Ezra’s mother being a member of BeiTech responsible for the Attack on Kerenza didn’t add much to the story. Let me rephrase that, I felt the authors didn’t explore it enough to warrant being an addition. Maybe it would’ve helped if we learned more about their past as a family, it might have made the final confrontation more powerful?
Regardless, that doesn’t change my stance on this book. “Obsidio” is a finale that does not disappoint hardcore fans. It isn’t hesitating to push you out of your comfort zone into the darkest aspects of horror humanity is capable of, you didn’t know was capable of, and pull you back out of that cosmic Hell before ending on a perfect note. If you’re an average reader looking for adrenaline-rushed novels that take tropes to either subvert or use them to an advantage, then the “Illuminae Files” is a trilogy that takes you across the cosmos of human willpower.
Here is a link for those interested: https://amzn.to/2MkXzd0
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