10 Rated Books 9 Rated Books Book Reviews Joint Review

Joint Review: Gemina by Amie Kaufman and Jay Kristoff (Illuminae Files #2)

Another spectacular, gut-wrenching beauty of a book.

Title: Gemina

Author: Amie Kaufman and Jay Kristoff

Genre: Science Fiction, Epistolary Novel, Young Adult

Publisher: Knopf Books for Young Readers
Publication Date: October 2016
Hardcover: 608 Pages


The highly anticipated sequel to the instant New York Times bestseller that critics are calling “out-of-this-world awesome.”

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.

Once again told through a compelling dossier of emails, IMs, classified files, transcripts, and schematics, Gemina raises the stakes of the Illuminae Files, hurling readers into an enthralling new story that will leave them breathless.

Stand alone or series: Book 2 in The Illuminae Files. Our review of the first book can be found here.

How did we get this book: ARC from the publisher

Format (e- or p-): Print ARC


Ana’s Take:

There is a small moment in Gemina – involving a lost flower corsage, no less – that is a masterpiece of storytelling that is both a beautiful moment between two people about to fall in love as well as a brilliant foreshadow that eventually turns into an essential piece of a mind-blowing twist. In other words: this novel? It’s fucking awesome.

The follow up to last year’s excellent (and one of our year-end favourites) Illuminae, Gemina has a similar formula to its predecessor: a high concept, an epistolary narrative, a book that requires the reader to engage with the pages in different ways, a Moment of Despair, incredible twists. And it all works again because these novels have that thing that will take the formula to the extra level: fantastic characters.

“Die Hard meets Aliens” is the high concept here and I would add the inevitable: in space. Where there is a wormhole. Featuring characters from different sides of the tracks. With Super High Stakes (even higher than Illuminae). It follows new characters to the series (whilst bringing back everybody who survived Illuminae) who are on board the jumpstation Heimdall (where the aforementioned survivors are about to arrive to) as it is invaded by the next stage of the (evil) BeiTech assault AND alien predators that want to eat everybody. If that wasn’t enough, it is well possible that the wormholes at the centre of the station – the very thing that keeps the space-time continuum together – is malfunctioning. HOW FUN. No, seriously, it is so much fun.

Hanna is a socialite, the station captain’s spoiled daughter. Nik is a member of an infamous crime family – which includes his cousin Ella. But no one is who they seem to be to start with: Hanna is a kick-ass, cool-as-fuck fighter and strategist. Nik is the criminal with the heart-of-gold. Oh, these two are lovely and a great counterpoint to one another. When the station is invaded (and the body count starts to rise), they are thrown together along with Ella to become reluctant heroes, the only ones standing between life and doom. And so it goes – put together by documents, blueprints, chat and video transcripts and more, the story follows the trio, with every subsequent event turning things up by a notch.

It’s a thrilling, fast-paced, page-turning novel that just like Illuminae doesn’t forget that at the centre of all it, these are people, young people. The drama of personal responsibility, heroism against odds, self-sacrifice for others and deep trauma is beautifully played up here and the fact that those highly emotional stakes are even possible to be so deeply felt in an epistolary narrative, it is all the more indicative of the writers’ skills.

One of my absolutely favourite moments here is exactly where all of those come together in a subdued, understated moment: when Hanna and Nik meet for the first time after everything starts and they have gone through so much, it is not a kiss that happens first, but tears. And just you wait until you get the meaning of “Gemina” and “Just a simple boy”. Chills.

As a reader, this novel hits all the right bottoms for me and is exactly what I want from a reading experience. As a publisher, I wish these novels were mine. I have no idea where Amie Kaufman and Jay Kristoff will take us next in the final volume in the trilogy – how can they make the stakes even higher – but I certainly will be there.

Thea’s Take:


I had incredibly high hopes when I started Gemina. I also was very nearly certain–almost positively certain–that there was no way Kaufman and Kristoff could pull off a second epistolary novel from new character perspectives and be as good as Illuminae. At best, I thought it would be a good, solid outing–but there was no way it could be as mindblowingly awesome as Illuminae.

I was wrong.

I was SO wrong.

Gemina is BETTER than Illuminae. (That’s right. I said it.)

If Illuminae was hackers and psychotic AIs and betrayals in space, Gemina is fucking Die Hard meets Aliens meets Event Horizon. They are both equally brilliant in different ways. They both have awesome, mind-blowing, emotional twists; they are both deeply character driven novels about young people fighting with all they have to stop the bad guys from getting away with grave injustice. They are both absolutely awesome books–but the action-sci-fi-horror fanatic in me cannot help but love Gemina that much more.

This book, in other words, is Thea-crack. (Thea-dust? Pick your drug of choice. Gemina is mine.)

Since Ana has done a lot of the ground work, I’ll just call out the things in particular that I adored about this book:

Hanna Donnely. Beautiful, self-aware, rich-little-princess to some, but actually an agile, surprisingly kind, and mind-blowingly intelligent young woman, Hanna is a heroine that I adore. Her character is subversive from the outset: she’s the pretty rich girl, the one who has daddy wrapped around her little finger, the one who actively solicits drugs to have a good time and party, who worries about getting the expensive-ass jumpsuit to make her boyfriend’s blood boil, and who also enjoys flirting with danger in the form of her bad boy drug dealer, Nik. If this was a horror movie, Hanna would be death number one, made to pay for her party-going/selfish/popular-pretty-girl ways. But this is no traditional horror movie or YA novel. Hanna turns out to be our heroine–she’s not just a pretty face, she is the daughter of the station’s military leader and has spent hours, years honing her body and her mind into a tactical and strategic fighting machine. She is freakin’ John McClane. She is the rogue cowboy running around, crawling in air vents, hijacking the radio and provoking her very own Hans Gruber (hell, in the character of Kali, she also has her own Karl to contend with). She fights fiercely, she understands the big picture, she weighs all of her options in order to not just survive, but win. She is the heroine of my dreams, in other words. And if Hanna is John McClane, that means that…

Nik Malikov is Ellen Ripley. (Hear me out.) Nik is the boy from the wrong side of the tracks; the son of a powerful member of the House of Knives family, who has already done some time in jail for crimes better left unspoken. He is a drug dealer of the hallucinogenic “dust”, derived from some very nasty parasites implanted in unsuspecting cows. He is no stranger to getting his hands dirty, in other words. Nik and Hanna are from very different worlds and would never end up together had things gone the way they should have gone. But… things go to shit, and Nik and Hanna are thrown into the mix together as allies against a nasty invading armed force that wants to silence and murder the entire station. Here is where the Ripley comparison comes in: you see, Nik both has a special bond with the other, parasitic force that threatens to rip Heimdall station apart. He kinda created them, see, so it’s only fitting that he has the big plan to destroy them all. He’s also incredibly maternal and protective (when you read through his entire character arc and everything he’s gone through for those he loves, you’ll see it). I love the role reversal that happens with Nik and Hanna; I love that these two characters find each other after so much blood and death. DAMN, I love the arcs that both characters transcend.

Beyond the characters, most importantly of all, I love the way that Gemina unfolds. I love that there is a space station that protects a wormhole that is the focus of this second novel (you know that the wormhole comes into it, right). I love that the story is told through transcripts and interpreted documents and intercepted relays and transcribed analyst notes. Of all of the documents and storytellers, though, my favorite two devices are:

Hanna’s journal. Illustrated by Hanna, the journal includes sketches of things that are important to the teenager (from modified designs of her jumpsuit, to hand-drawn illustrations of the people in her life, to tactical diagrams of how to create a bomb out of electricity and sugar). It also includes a bullet hole in one corner that becomes increasingly bloody as the pages go on–this is a story that is told over time, leading to a dramatic, gut-wrenching reality by the novel’s final act.

Side-by-side narration. I won’t spoil it, but the passages near the book’s critical climax involve two characters’ actions, side by side, as narrated by a third character. It is heart-stopping, emotional, raw, and perfect in every way.

I loved everything about this book–its bloody action sequences, its betrayals, its twists and turns. I love the science that comes in during the book’s second half and fully comes to light in the book’s final act. (The meaning of the title–and as Ana says, the phrase “A Simple Boy”–ARE EVERYTHING.) I love Hanna and Nik and Ella as much as I love Kady and Ezra and Aiden. I cannot wait to see how it all ends for BeiTech, for our heroes and heroines, for our survivors.

Do yourself a favor. Buy this book and read it now. It is fucking awesome, and my favorite read of 2016 so far.

Additional thoughts: We interviewed the authors – you can read about this novel, the series and what comes next here.


Ana: 9 – Damn Near Perfection and likely to be a top 10 book of 2016

Thea: 10 – Die Hard x Aliens x Event Horizon = WIN WIN WIN WIN WIN.

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