A few weeks ago, I had the opportunity to meet Jay Kristoff and Amie Kaufman on their US tour celebrating the release of Obsidio, the third and final book in the Illuminae Files. They graciously posed for a photo with my husband and me.
The Illuminae Files follows different sets of teens as their stories intersect while they flee from a Bei-Tech invasion force. Each book builds on the previous. The first book, Illuminae features Kady, Ezra and AIDAN. Gemina adds Nik, Ella and Hannah, and in Obsidio Asha and Rhys get added to the mix. Lots and lots and lots of people die in inventive and horrific ways.
The stories themselves are fun, fairly quick reads. They’re full of action, emotion and are easy to get swept away by. All three stories include some kind of time-clock that helps raise the tension of the book so it’s easy to want to flip pages at lightning speed. The stories aren’t particularly fresh. They’re somewhat tropey and read like classic YA sometimes. There’s a little diversity (Ella! Asha!), but the books are painfully straight. What makes them fresh and has garnered the books a dedicated fanbase is the format.
The books are formatted to tell the stories via chat messages, emails, transcripts of videos and audio files, diary entries and pictures. The books themselves are massively thick, around 600 pages each, but they aren’t long stories; it’s easy to blow through one in a night. The format makes a regular sized story take MANY more pages to tell. Even the audiobooks are produced in such a way that they convey the story with additional layers. But the Illuminae Files are a visual experience.
And that’s part of my problem with them.
The books themselves are beautiful, and obviously took a TON of work to put together. At the book signing Jay said he spent a lot of time involved in the layout, and in Gemina one of the designers actually shot a book to make one of the visual effects as realistic as possible. That being said, they sacrificed a lot of readability in the design of these books. They’re printed in black and white, so there’s often shades of gray overlapping with more grey. Grey text on grey and black text on black is very challenging to read. Some of the pages feature text in swirly lines that force you to turn the book this way and that to read it or have light text superimposed over maps or drawings. I don’t have visual impairments and found the book challenging to read. My visually impaired husband would have found them IMPOSSIBLE to read.
I am all for books as artistic objects, and I admire the hard work and dedication to creating these books the way they are. But when that hard work forgets that these are books and need to be legible I find myself frustrated. They took something and made it beautiful and exclusive. People with moderate visual impairments are actively excluded from the experience.
That being said, I enjoyed the series and if you’re looking for an emotional rollercoaster ride, check out the Illuminae Files.