Book Review: ‘Gemina’ (2016)

The short: 4.5 ✦. The followup to Illuminae, this exciting epistolary novel is just as fast-paced and interesting, if not quite as suspenseful.

The long:

If Illuminae was 2001: A Space Odyssey and Shaun of the Dead, then Gemina is Die Hard and Alien.

But not quite as good as either.

I was excited to read Gemina, because I’d loved the first book. It had been suspenseful, thrilling, funny, and just an overall excellent “collection” to add to the YA sci-fi genre. Kaufman and Kristoff know how to write YA and how it write it well.

That being said, this sequel was slightly lacking in comparison to Illuminae. Which is, of course, to say that it was still pretty gosh darn good. Hence the four stars.

Let’s get the cons out of the way first:

  • The alien threat wasn’t all that threatening. Not like the “zombie” virus in the first book. The best aspect was that you just never knew when the heck they’d show up, so it had more of a shock value.
  • Not a fan of the pairing of the two main characters. A tad instalove-ish and heavily cliche, and though I’m pretty sure being the latter was actually the whole point, it didn’t do it for me.
  • There’s something that happens near the end that’s rather similar to a something that happens in Illuminae, and so it loses its impact because you’re like, “oh, this again, I know what’s going to happen now,” and the only reason the book gets a pass for this is because it’s the result of a BIGGER something that is amazingly cool and total sci-fi awesomeness, and that makes it all okay.
  • Some of the surveillance pieces, particularly near the end, are less transcription and more straight-up prose. The in-book handwave is that the dossier’s transcriber is a little eccentric and unprofessional, but their voice almost entirely changes by the conclusion, and it’s mildly off-putting because it seems more like an excuse for the authors to get in something that isn’t tech/chat speak or dialogue.

THE PROS, THOUGH:

  • Marie Lu’s illustrations! They were few and far between, sadly, but each are AMAZING. And realistically so — I’m friends with an artist, and the drawings in the book are the exactly the kind of thing my friend would draw in high school. Y’know, doodling and sketches and portraits and such. I mean, Lu’s look much more professional than what is typical done on notebook paper, but the spirit and style is very much accurate.
  • Hanna. I wasn’t a fan of her character as a person (like, I doubt we would ever be friends), but she is tough and knows how to fight and is good at strategy and this is all explained. Her father has been teaching her these skills her entire life, at the sacrifice of perhaps having a more normal childhood. She is able to realistically stand up to the interlopers because she has been taught how and can apply those teachings in battle (well, more like guerrilla-style warfare in the air vents of a spaceship, but you get the idea). And she’s still not perfect. She gets hurt, she has bad aim, and when she has to make an impossible decision, she suffers over it in a way that someone more experienced likely wouldn’t (and thus knows when to turn to a higher authority). But she never gives up, she keeps crawling along, and she doesn’t let her emotions overwhelm her judgment. Her relatively flat personality may leave something to be desired, but you cannot deny her credentials as an adept fighter heroine.
  • I just love epistolary novels, and Gemina has even more document styles than Illuminae, and it’s GREAT. And often, quite beautiful!
  • Kady, Ezra, and “someone” else all make a return, and now I’m just imagining the sass battles that these five characters are likely going to have in the third book (which, as of this writing, still doesn’t have a title D8).

Gemina doesn’t quite live up to its predecessor, but it still manages to be a solid and ████in’ fantastic read in its own right. SUPER looking forward to the series conclusion!

Header image: Gemina by Amie Kaufman and Jay Kristoff, published October 18th 2016 by Knopf Books for Young Readers.

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