YA Weekend Audio: Gemina by Amie Kaufman and Jay Kristoff
I received a review copy from the publisher. This does not affect the contents of my review and all opinions are my own.
Mogsy’s Rating (Overall): 5 of 5 stars
Genre: Young Adult, Science Fiction
Series: Book 2 of The Illuminae Files
Publisher: Listening Library (October 18, 2016)
Length: 12 hrs and 34 mins
Narrators: Carla Corvo , Steve West , P.J. Ochlan, Full Cast
Anyone who has seen the hardcover of Illuminae will probably agree the art direction for the novel was phenomenal, with its pages beautifully laid out and adorned with illustrations, diagrams, and creative typeface. It was such an incredible visual experience that in my review I even wrote that I would recommend forsaking digital or audio versions of this book and go all-out for the hardcopy, the way the book was meant to be enjoyed. However, to this last point, I got a couple of comments from readers who jumped in to say, “No, no, the audiobook is actually excellent!” and that I shouldn’t write off the audio edition just yet, because even without the visuals it has a lot to offer. Thoroughly intrigued, I decided I would listen to the audiobook of the sequel, Gemina, to see what the fuss was all about.
AND OH MY GOD. Forget what I wrote about nixing the audiobook. I take back all my skepticism. I have seen the light.
Gemina was absolutely positively outstanding. And the audio experience was more than just amazing; it just about blew my mind.
But first, my summary and review of the story. Chronologically, Gemina takes place right after the events of Illuminae, but the focus switches to a couple of new characters. The book also takes place on Jump Station Heimdall, which as you’ll recall is the destination of the refugees aboard the Alexander fleet after their planet Kerenza was invaded by the megacorp BeiTech. While all that’s still going on in the background, our new protagonist Hanna Donnelly has been settling in at the station, where her father is the commander.
Being the daughter of the most important man on Heimdall has its perks; Hanna is affluent and has never wanted for anything, and her pampered ways has even led her drug dealer Nik to cheekily call her “Princess” or “Your Highness.” Getting high off dust is one of the ways Hanna has found to pass her time at Heimdall, which in her opinion is one of the most boring places in the galaxy, though of course there’s also her new boyfriend Jackson Merrick, a handsome and well put together officer of her father’s.
Soon, it is Terra Day, an event Hanna has been looking forward to for a long time. She’s even bought a new dress to show Jackson and everything! There’s only one thing left she needs to make it a perfect day, and that’s a bit of dust. Right before the party, she heads off to see Nik, a decision that most likely saves her life. Without warning, Heimdall comes under attack by mercenaries hired by BeiTech (those pesky troublemakers again) who are there to take over the station and ensure that the incoming survivors of Kerenza will not receive the help they need. The mercenary leader Cerberus is prepared to kill everybody on board to bury the truth of what happened in Illuminae, and with everyone else trapped or held hostage, it is up to Hanna and Nik to recapture control of the Heimdall. Fortunately for everyone, Nik has his criminal underworld connections, and there’s a lot more to Hanna than the pampered helpless princess everyone thinks she is.
Following in the tradition of the first book, Gemina is also presented in an epistolary format as a collection of transcripts, journal entries, communication reports and the like. The variety of documents used to tell the story is again what makes this sequel so fantastic. Kaufman and Kristoff use them to great effect, ensuring there’s never a dull moment. Two books later, I still can’t get over how clever and unique this series is.
I might have even enjoyed Gemina more than Illuminae. The two plots mirror each other in a way, with both featuring their protagonists hiding out in the labyrinthine belly of a ship/space station, covertly sabotaging their foe in order to regain the upper hand. Both stories also involve a race against time and provide readers with a periodic countdown to remind us of that fact. And finally, both books have a surprise up their sleeve, a wild card that the authors decide to spring on us only once the story has gotten moving, just to add a little more spice to the conflict. Thing is though, despite their similarities, I found the plot of Gemina much more interesting and unpredictable than Illuminae, with a final ending that was just so twisty and brilliant it had me sitting on pins and needles until the book was finished. And so, I have to give the edge to the sequel.
I also didn’t think I would take to our new protagonists and enjoy them as much as I did Kady and Ezra, but Hanna and Nik surprised me. They have a great dynamic between them, and I felt their special connection right away. Of course it doesn’t hurt that Hanna, ostensibly a spoiled little rich girl, is actually a walking wealth of military strategy and black ops-type knowledge that she learned at her father’s knee. With her resourcefulness and hardcore skills, Hanna and Nik are out to make BeiTech and Cerberus regret that they ever chose to mess with Heimdall station.
As for the audiobook edition, Gemina is probably one of the best productions I’ve ever had the pleasure of listening to. Multiple narrators give listeners the full cast treatment and I am beyond impressed at how they’ve successfully translated such an unconventionally structured book to audio. The only thing I didn’t really care for was the awkward censoring/muffling of naughty words, but to be fair, you have to put up with the same inane “blanking out” effect in the print. Anyway, because so much of the book is presented to us via private messaging transcripts and person-to-person communiqués, this actually makes the audiobook format uniquely suited to immerse listeners in the story. The voice actors are also fantastic; I actually enjoyed the video transcripts a lot more this time around when they were read by the narrator for the hilarious “Security Camera Footage guy”, and they couldn’t have chosen a more perfect reader for Jackson, whom the other characters in the book describe as having a “sexy accent”. Other extras that made this one a great listen include sound effects, and even a rendition of the infamous “Lollipop Licking Song” (you’ll know what I mean when you read the book) which would be played every time it got queued—all that was the icing on an already delicious cake.
All told Gemina was an amazing book and worth sequel to the brilliant Illuminae, and I highly recommend this series. I’ll probably still end up picking up the hardcover at some point just to have a “keeper copy”, because I am curious to see the visuals as well as the illustrations by author Marie Lu, but I have to say I’m extremely pleased with my time with the audio. I retract my previous comments about other formats and amend them to say you can’t go possibly go wrong with any one you choose. Just check out these books!
More on The BiblioSanctum:
Review of Illuminae (Book 1)