December Book Review: Gemina


Gemina (The Illuminae Files #2)

By: Amie Kaufman & Jay Kristoff

Release Date: October 18, 2016


*Beware: Spoilers Ahead!*


Official Synopsis:

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.

Briefing note: told through a compelling dossier of found documents – and featuring guest journal illustrations by bestselling author Marie Lu—Gemina hurls readers into an enthralling new episode that will leave them breathless.

My Synopsis:

Hanna Donnelly tried to tell her father that moving to a remote space station would be the death of her.  She didn’t know how true that would turn out to be.

Gemina continues the epic story of destruction and survival that began in Illuminae, following Hanna and the rest of population aboard the Jump Station Heimdall as they face the second wave of the BeiTech assault.

Hanna and Nik couldn’t be more different.  She’s the daughter of the captain, smart and beautiful and spoiled; he’s the nephew of an infamous crime lord, the bad boy with a record and a lucrative drug business.  Both of them long to escape from the Heimdall and their roles there, but neither of them were expecting to have to escape to survive.

Nik is the last person Hanna would’ve picked to work with against an elite strike team, but when BeiTech sends their best to destroy the incoming Hypatia and all evidence of the Kerenza invasion, the pair have to trust each other if they want to get out alive.  Unfortunately, the strike team may be the least of their worries; a pack of alien parasites is preying on the surviving residents, and a breakdown in the station’s wormhole may spell the end of all of space and time, leaving the fate of the known universe in Hanna and Nik’s hands.

Their very capable hands, of course.  They can handle this.  Probably.

Using the same intriguing format as its predecessor. Gemina will have readers holding their breath until the very last page.

My Thoughts:

I don’t consider myself a huge sci-fi person.  I like the genre for the most part, but I tend to lean more towards fantasy in my reading.  When I do read sci-fi books, I’m more of a fan of those that focus on space and/or time travel, alternate dimensions, and futuristic societies and technologies rather than on aliens.  Not that I have anything against aliens, but I’ve realized that a lot of sci-fi likes to shoehorn aliens into the mix just for the sake of having aliens, and they just always come across as silly to me.

Agent K would probably disagree, but oh well.

But Illuminae combined all the things I like in a sci-fi book, so I have no idea why I didn’t pick it up until last month.  And oh my goodness, I hate that I waited so long to read it.

Illuminae was unlike anything I’d ever read, largely in part due its unique storytelling format and the immediate jump into the action.  There was no hand-holding, no one was safe, and I literally ignored everyone at work the day after I started reading because all I could think about was getting back to the book.  The twists were spectacular, the characters were fun and complex, and the ending was powerful.

Of course, I ordered the sequel Gemina as soon as I’d finished.  I knew from the summary that the second book followed a new set of characters but that their story intertwined with that of Kady, Ezra, and the Hypatia, and I will admit that while I was definitely looking forward to reading Gemina, I was a bit skeptical about Hanna and Nik.  They sounded like a pretty typical case of ‘good girl falls for bad guy,’ and yes, I like that story, but I wanted something more out of a sequel to such an amazing book.

And boy, did I get more.

Hanna is very different from Kady, essentially her counterpart from the first book.  While Kady is mostly brains and action when needed, Hanna is all strategy, attitude, and kickass.  Hanna’s father, the commander of the Jump Station Heimdall, made sure Hanna had a very military-style upbringing.  She was trained in various forms of martial arts, they played strategy games in their spare time, and her lessons had a large focus on historical battles and warriors and on war in general.  It’s an unexpected side of someone who I expected to be a spoiled daddy’s girl.

And Hanna is that, too, but she’s not just that.  Like Kady, she’s very multidimensional, and she’s willing to use her skills to save or avenge the ones she loves and anyone else she can protect.  I loved Hanna’s steely determination, and her fight scenes were awesome.  I had to read the video surveillance tech’s descriptions of her fights a few times over because I loved the girl power and undeniable skill in those scenes.  Easily one of my new favorite heroines.

Nik, on the other hand, is unlike any character in Illuminae.  He’s the nephew of a crime boss living illegally on the station, and he’s carved out his own little business selling drugs to the station residents.  He’s initially flirty and smug and your typical bad boy, but his lame attempts to flirt with Hanna made me laugh even while I was rolling my eyes.  It’s revealed that he’s done a stint in juvie, and the tattoo of angel wings on his neck are described in such a way that you know he had to have done something pretty bad to gain such respect from his uncle.

But when things go south, Nik’s true character comes out, and that’s when I really started to like him.  Nik is as tough as he appears, but he truly loves his family, particularly his cousin Ella.  He’s willing to do whatever he can to keep her safe and to find an escape for her, Hanna, and himself.  He’s also willing to take the blame for those he loves in order to keep them safe, even to his own detriment, and this softer side forces him to make some tough decisions as he and Hanna face off against the BeiTech kill team.  He makes them, but it costs him something, and his pain makes you realize he’s more than just another member of his crime family.

Because Hanna and Nik are so different from Kady and Ezra, their relationship is quite different, too.  For starters, the only real relationship they have at the start of the book is that of dealer and buyer; Hanna buys dust from Nik for her and her friends, and Nik is only too happy to oblige, since it gives him a chance to flirt (badly) with Hanna.  The interactions between these two were honest and open, but also cheesy, which was fun.  I liked Hanna’s illustrated explanation of their past relationship, which helped explain how the two interacted with one another and set the stage for their future relationship.  That future relationship was forced upon them by the BeiTech invasion of the station, and although the two had their moments of distrust and disagreement, they both knew they could rely on the other to do whatever they could to stop the kill team.  I liked that they were separated and on the run for a good chunk of the story; it kept their relationship from unrealistically jumping from platonic to romantic too quickly and allowed their affection and fear for one another to grow since they were only in touch electronically.  Absence may make the heart grow fonder, but so does the threat of imminent death.

Nik is also there for Hanna as she deals with the revelation that her boyfriend, Jackson, was actually a BeiTech plant, and that he was the one who arranged for the BeiTech kill team to enter the station, knowing full well that many people were going to die as a result.  Hanna is understandably devastated, even more so since the leader of the kill team, Cerberus, murdered her father, and although Nik is willing to give her a shoulder to cry on or to be a voice of reason as needed, he doesn’t immediately try to take Jackson’s place.  He respects Hanna enough to keep his distance rather than trying to worm himself further into her good graces.  And he’s got bigger things to focus on, like not dying, and I can’t thank the authors enough for not making this into a soppy romance and having the characters conveniently forget that their world is essentially ending while they tag all the bases.

Overall, I loved the relationship between Hanna and Nik.  It defied all my expectations, and it made sense for them to end up together after all their past and present experiences.  I can’t wait to see what their relationship looks like as they continue to deal with BeiTech.

Aside from strong characters, Gemina also has a strong story.  It runs largely parallel to the later part of Illuminae for the majority before the storylines actually meet up, but Gemina is certainly its own story.  Like Illuminae, Gemina begins with a discussion of the events on Kerenza, but this book begins at a trial rather than just an interview.  Because the invasion itself was already discussed, there’s a slower start for this book compared to its predecessor, but because we know what’s coming, there’s already a sense of tension.

Gemina felt like a much different beast in terms of story than Illuminae.  In the first book, things started off with total chaos, and the action and suspense never really let up.  Gemina seemed to have a lot of slower parts, but those parts were still fraught with tension.  It was reminiscent of an espionage or a heist story, with lots of careful planning going into everything before huge moments of action.  The action scenes were super intense, and all the forethought and buildup really made them more dramatic.

The fact that BeiTech had an undercover operative working on the Heimdall also contributed to the espionage feel.  In Illuminae, Kady’s hacker skills were kept a secret from those in charge, but that was a personal choice and not one made out of malice.  In Gemina, it’s revealed that Jackson, Hanna’s boyfriend, actually works for BeiTech and has been deleting all the distress signals from Kerenza and the Hypatia, making sure that news of the invasion doesn’t spread.  It’s essentially corporate espionage, just with a higher body count than you’d usually expect.

Additionally, another hacker is kept a secret; Nik’s cousin, Ella, is a hacker extraordinaire a la Kady, and her survival was kept a secret by her father in order for her to do tech work for the family.  She was in charge of keeping all their criminal activity undetected, and once the kill team invaded, she used her skills to guide Hanna and Nik throughout the station as they tried to take down the invaders.  Ella is the woman behind the curtain, and her secrecy was also a decision by her family, giving them and their business an advantage in terms of avoiding barriers and law enforcement.  The presence of two major characters whose true identity and purpose—or identity entirely, in Ella’s case—were kept secret made Gemina feel much stealthier than its predecessor and kept the slower parts from dragging.

Gemina also felt much more like a sci-fi book than Illuminae.  It had all the same technology and ships and whatnot, but whereas Illuminae had the Phobos virus—which, yes, was terrifying, but even in the present day, we get horrible disease outbreaks on a fairly regular basis—Gemina had aliens.  And not just for the sake of having aliens, either.  These aliens, called lamina, are legitimately terrifying.  Their insertion into cows for incubation?  Horrifying and gross.  Their escape and subsequent slithering throughout the Heimdall in search of prey?  Freaky.  And their attacks on both good and bad guys alike?  Heart-pounding, quick, and disturbing all in one.  These aliens are done right, and they add a different level of terror and danger to Hanna and Nik’s creeping around the station.  They also give the two an ally against the BeiTech operatives in a sense, as long as they manage to get out of the way before the lamina attack.  The lamina are the sorts of aliens I like in my stories, scary and dangerous and indifferent to whether or not you care about the characters they’re killing, and their presence on the Heimdall creates yet another layer of tension underneath all the human drama.

The other big sci-fi aspect of Gemina was the malfunctioning wormhole and the universal paradox it created.  I suspected something was up when Nik pulled out the corsage he’d bought for Hanna after telling her he’d lost it, but I didn’t know what exactly was up.  But once the Hypatia came into the story, the reasoning behind the title of the book became obvious.  I love reading stories involving the multiverse theory, and I thought the book did a nice job of explaining this theory in both a succinct and understandable manner.  It was also a great and realistic twist—lots of crazy and terrible things can happen when wormholes are involved—and it gave Hanna, Nik, and everyone else one last, giant obstacle to overcome.

Of course, it was also a relief to learn that Nik wasn’t really dead, at least the version Hanna had always known, because I was going to be quite upset if Nik had died.  Ella, too, for that matter.  To be honest, I’m not totally clear as to what happened to Universe B once everything was fixed in Universe A, but I guess that doesn’t really matter.  It seemed like everyone would probably be dead, so it seems depressing to worry too much about it anyway.  Regardless, everyone kept pointing out how dangerous the wormhole could be, so it was a nice payoff to see just how dangerous it could actually be.

And the ending, of course, wraps up the main story while still leaving us with a big cliffhanger.  It puts a nice bow on the current part of the story but leaves just enough unknown to get people to pick up the next book.  Satisfying yet intriguing: a tried and true way to end a book, and I’m both pleased and anxious for Book 3.

The last thing I want to say is how much I love the format of both Illuminae and Gemina.  Instead of the usual format—you know, actual sentences and paragraphs and chapters and such—these books use documents to tell the story.  IM chats, video transcripts, emails, online encyclopedia entries, schematics, and, in Gemina, personal drawings: telling a story in this way is visually fascinating and it feels like it moves the plot along faster.  There may be pages of ‘dialogue’ broken up by the transcript of a video describing some important event, followed by a few drawings to give more background to a concept, construct, or character, then back to ‘dialogue.’  It keeps things interesting and it keeps the brain occupied so that you can’t put the book down.

And I really couldn’t put either book down.  Gemina is a strong sequel with complicated, exciting characters and a great story.  It’s sci-fi for people who don’t like sci-fi.  It’s also a love story for those who want action with their romance, as Hanna and Nik have an unexpected but real and tested relationship.  The pair are amazing both together and on their own, and Hanna in particular astounded me with her fighting skills and her almost single-minded determination to avenge her father’s death and save her space station.  The continuing story of the Kerenza invasion and the aftermath is action-packed, clever, and full of twists that you won’t see coming.  Trust me, you may think you see them coming, but even when you’re right, the twists are still turned on their head in such a way that will leave your head spinning.  The format of the story is unique and fascinating, and it will keep you turning the pages until the very end.  Hanna, Nik, Kady, and Ezra keep pulling off these amazing feats and proving that ‘impossible’ means nothing to them, and I can’t wait to see what they do next.

Do yourself a favor and jump into the Illuminae Files today.  Just make sure your wormhole is functioning properly before you make that leap.

Stray Thoughts and Observations:

  • Hanna’s dad seemed really sweet.  I wish we would’ve gotten more interaction between them.
  • I love the illustrations from Hanna’s journal.  They add to the unique format of the book but are also personal and give more of a sense of Hanna as a person.
  • The cameos with Kady’s dad showed just how great he is.  I’m looking forward to seeing his reunion with his daughter.
  • Ella and Kady are going to be such great friends, what with the awesome hacking skills and the penchant for making fun of guys.
  • The description of the House of Knives inserting the lamina into the cows was gross and creepy.
  • It was quite ominous to see the bloodstain in the corner of Hanna’s journal spreading more and more as the story went along.
  • Hanna and Kady together could probably rule the universe.
  • I’m gonna need a real recording of Lexi Blue’s lollipop song.  I have a few people I need to annoy.
  • Nik brought her flowers!  That’s incredibly sweet.
  • Going to fancy parties is always a bad idea.  There’s a higher than average chance that someone is going to end up dead, and I’m clumsy enough that I don’t need an increased risk of dying.
  • I cannot express enough how much I love the vidtech guy who’s making the transcripts of the surveillance footage.  I hope we find out who he is in the next book and that he’s an actual character; I need more of his snark in the face of death.
  • Cerberus, please stop saying, “Bliss.” I get that it’s probably your mantra from anger management class, but I really just can’t stand it.
  • Nik’s babushka definitely needs her own story.  Please and thank you.
  • Something else I read recently used finely ground powder (flour, in that case) to make an explosion.  Apparently this is a thing I need to YouTube.
  • I love that Kaufman and Kristoff use other authors’ names in the lists of dead.  I don’t know if that would be an honor or a threat.
  • This lollipop malware is really the worst bad luck ever.
  • AIDAN is rather dramatic for a machine, and I totally love it.
  • Assault Fleet Kennedy sounded really terrifying.  Glad no one actually had to fight those guys.
  • AIDAN’s jokes are my favorite.
  • I love the parallel conversions between the different universes.  Surreal but awesome.
  • I need a scene of Hanna and AIDAN playing chess.
  • Seriously, snarky AIs are my new favorite thing.

Favorite Quotes:

  • For full effect, read everything Merrick says in a loin-stirringly deep, upper-crust accent while listening to smooth jazz.
  • She looked at the stars.  He looked at her.
  • They’re like goddamn machines.  I take back what I said about Mona Lisa invading my space station.  I prefer my women less…murderbot-y.
  • Apparently she’s got revenge on her mind, and it’s really annoying when people try to talk at you while you’re feeling murderish.
  • Babushka Nika used to say, “Patience and Silence had one beautiful daughters.  And her name was Vengeance.”
  • And though she’s an orphan and there’s no way he leaves the House of Knives except feet first, and they’re both bound to be dead before either of those things are a problem anyway, they just hold on to each other like they’re all the anchor the other one needs.
  • But in the code, the endless skein of ones and zeros, she leaves the pale atrophy of flesh far behind.  Strides like a goddess across the binary topography, the heart of a lion in her chest.
  • “You know, quoting Sun Tzu while you toss your guns is nice and dramatic, lady, but throwing down with the girl you orphaned?  Probably safer to say ‘Screw the drama’ and just kill the —–.”
  • “You might only get one shot.  So shoot.  You know who said that?”  The rifle clatters to the bloody floor.  “Hanna —-ing Donnelly.  That’s who.”
  • And now, born from the ashes, she’s a warrior in bloodied black, gun in hand.
  • Okay, think about everything me and Nik and Ella and Kady and Ezra and all the others had been through.  Leave aside the planetary invasions and killsquads, the mind-eating alien parasites, and mass-murdering artificial intelligences for a minute.  We’d just saved the goddamn universes from total annihilation after an interdimensional paradox threatened to swallow them whole.  You really think “impossible” was going to be a problem for us after all that?
  • You wanna know how it ends?

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