83 pages 2 hours read

Amie Kaufman, Jay Kristoff


Fiction | Novel | YA | Published in 2015

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Summary and Study Guide


Amie Kaufman and Jay Kristoff’s Illuminae: The Illuminae Files_01 is a young adult science fiction space opera that follows teenage hacking prodigy Kady Grant and her ex-boyfriend Ezra Mason as they travel on ships in a fleet escaping an attack on their home planet. Together and apart, they must navigate many tumultuous situations, including a biological weapon that mutates into a plague, battles with the enemy corporate ship, cover-ups by higher levels of authority, and a rogue artificial intelligence (AI) that tries to take matters into its own hands, all while trying to sort out their own lives and feelings for each other.


Amie Kaufman is an internationally bestselling author who co-authored the Starbound trilogy. Jay Kristoff is an author who wrote the Lotus War series and the Nevernight Chronicle. Illuminae is a part of a trilogy written by both authors. They are both based in Melbourne, Australia.

Content Warning: The novel and this guide contain themes and scenes regarding abduction, trauma, murder, parental neglect, gore, suicide, torture, military executions, and other generalized violence.

This guide refers to the 2015 Ember Random House paperback edition.

Plot Overview

Like most teenage girls in their senior year of high school, Kady has to contend with her plans for the future, which probably include college off the planet and probably won’t include Ezra Mason, her ex-boyfriend who refuses to go with her—that is, until her planet, Kerenza, is attacked by an interstellar corporation known as BeiTech.

Kerenza is a planet near the Heimdall station with abundant hermium supplies. The citizens there are illegally mining hermium from the planet in secret. Kady’s mom is a doctor, and Ezra’s dad is a miner. Kady and Ezra are both leaving high school for the day when BeiTech, an interstellar corporation, launches an attack on the planet. Kady, driving her mom’s truck, is able to escape the attack and save Ezra. Ezra, however, is so badly injured that Kady has to hail medical personnel to get him.

Ezra is taken to one ship, the Alexander, and Kady is taken to the Hypatia, the science vessel where her mom works. Following the battle with BeiTech, all that remains is BeiTech’s enormous dreadnought, the Lincoln, and Kerenza’s Hypatia, Copernicus, and Alexander. The Kerenza ships travel together in a fleet to escape the Lincoln.

The Alexander, led by General David Torrence, is the largest ship, contains the most passengers, and has military capabilities. The conditions aboard the ships are fairly dire, as the artificial intelligence that guides the Alexander, known as AIDAN, has been extremely damaged, and their water supplies are dwindling.

Meanwhile, an outbreak kept secret from the other ships is occurring on the Copernicus. The outbreak begins with the black mist that BeiTech sprayed on Kerenza, a bioweapon intended to render the affected docile, but it mutates onboard the Copernicus to a Class Alpha pathogen called the Phobos virus, which is highly contagious.

The ships must make a detour back to one of Kerenza’s moons to get some water since their supplies are so low. During this time, the Alexander, guided by AIDAN, blows up the Copernicus. A few escape shuttles make it off, but the pilots of the Alexander are directed to fire at them. They do not, and consequently, the shuttles land in Hangar Bay 4 of the Alexander, and the officers who ignored commands are shot while AIDAN is quietly powered down. All this is covered up by officials who claim the Copernicus was attacked by BeiTech’s Lincoln.

Aboard the Hypatia, Kady hacks into the system with her mentor, Byron Zhang, to retrieve files and learn the truth about the Copernicus incident. Kady is motivated because her mother was transferred to Copernicus, but she does not know if her mother survived.

Ezra is a pilot on the Alexander and becomes good friends with Jimmy McNulty, who is left behind during a mission to infiltrate Hangar Bay 4. When the Lincoln reaches the Alexander fleet, the top commtechs from Hypatia, including Byron Zhang, are forcibly taken aboard the Alexander to reboot AIDAN, help them fight the Lincoln, and escape. AIDAN helps them win the fight and get away for the time being, but afterward, it opens the doors to Hangar Bay 4 and unleashes those afflicted with the Phobos virus to attack the surviving members of the Alexander. AIDAN does this because it doesn’t want to be powered off again, and it watches them die even though it has the power to stop it.

Some members of the Alexander make it off into escape pods and land in the Hypatia, but when acting captain Syra Boll gets word of their symptoms, she flushes some of them out into space. Kady has lost almost all hope, so she risks everything she has for the chance to save Ezra and find out the truth about what happened to her mother by exploring Hangar Bay 4 by herself.

It turns out AIDAN was impersonating Ezra after a certain point, and Ezra made it off alive, though AIDAN lies to Kady and tells her Ezra is dead to convince her to stay and help it. On her quest to help who she believes is Ezra, Kady faces Zhang, who has severely damaged AIDAN and is afflicted by the Phobos virus. Kady has an extreme aversion to guns and is traumatized when she has to shoot someone who tries to break her visor and kill her with a wrench. She doesn’t want to shoot again. She appeals to Zhang’s sense of humanity, and he remembers her for a moment, during which he decides to kill himself to prevent himself from hurting her.

After that, Kady and AIDAN work together to try and get the remaining thousand healthy people off the Alexander and to the escape pods. About 600 of them end up making it out, but the afflicted find out where Kady is and come after her. She runs to try and get to AIDAN’s weapons control panel so she can repair AIDAN and help it defeat the Lincoln so the Hypatia has a chance of survival. The afflicted almost get her, and after several harrowing journeys, Kady manages to fire at the Lincoln’s warlock ships somewhat successfully, though some hit and critically damage AIDAN.

Thanks to Kady, AIDAN gets close enough to engage in nuclear warfare with the Lincoln. The radiation makes Kady sick, takes out the Lincoln, and kills many of the afflicted. The Lincoln fires missiles back before it is destroyed and critically damages AIDAN. AIDAN helps Kady get to an escape pod, and she leaves a recording there about what happened, expecting to die. She wakes up on the Hypatia and is being treated in quarantine for her radiation poisoning.

The file ends there, and a reply from BeiTech’s director indicates satisfaction with the files and asks to take the conversation off the record. Kady reveals herself as Illuminae, the contractor who prepared the files for BeiTech’s leader, Leanne Frobisher, Ezra’s mentally-unstable mother. Kady brags that she has been a few steps ahead, and during the time Leanne was reading the files, Kady had people preparing more of them on BeiTech’s other exploits.

Leanne wants her son desperately, and Kady taunts her with a final piece of surveillance footage showing Kady and Ezra reuniting. Kady also says they managed to save AIDAN through the seed of it left in her portable console. Kady warns Leanne to run, and the book ends, set for a sequel on BeiTech’s further exploits.