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CONTENT WARNINGS: death, grief, loss of a loved one, murder of civilians and children, on-page murder of a child (pages 213-217), war
BRIEFING NOTE: This is a fantastic end to one of my favorite series ever, chum. This is a trilogy that is excellently plotted into three acts and is never ███████ boring. If you haven’t yet read Illuminae and Gemina , tread with caution as this review has spoilers for the first two books.
“Every story needs its villain. And its hero. And its monster.”
I am so sad that this amazing series is over, chum. If I am being honest, it took me almost two months to read this book because I didn’t want it to end and was savoring every single page. I simply didn’t want to say goodbye to the characters I had come to love, especially Nik.
After the events of Gemina, the Mao is left without a jump station and is essentially stranded in space. They know that BeiTech has mobile jump technology and begins making its way towards Kerenza IV to commandeer it so they can get the truth out about what BeiTech did.
“I am not good. Nor am I evil.”
The main theme of the trilogy’s finale is good versus evil and how those lines get blurred. In Illuminae and Gemina it was clear who the enemy was because they had their black hats and BeiTech armor, but the morality of war and following unjust orders are forefront in Obsidio. The story follows the characters we have come to know and love as the Mao makes its way towards Kerenza IV as well as characters on the ground of occupied Kerenza IV seven months after the attack on the colony (Asha, a civilian, and Rhys, a BeiTech techie brought into rotation on the ground). I really appreciated the way that Kaufman and Kristoff used an “outsider” BeiTech soldier to discuss the issues of morality in war and the struggles he feels with being told to do things he didn’t agree with.
“I didn’t sign up for this. I’m just a fucking tech.[…] I’m just trying to explain how I got here! I didn’t see a poster on a wall that said ‘Join the corps! See the galaxy! Bomb the ██ out of innocent people!’ They forced me to go. And even if they hadn’t, you think the recruiters tell you what you’d be in for when you sign up? None of these pounders knew they’d be in ██ like this. You think people honestly sit back and say to themselves, ‘You know what? I think I’ll get myself involved in planetary genocide this week?'”
These issues on the ground pair well with the ethical dilemma that AIDAN presents time and time again throughout the trilogy. “AM I NOT MERCIFUL?’ AIDAN is an AI that is programmed to protect humanity no matter the cost – and those costs never being in line with morality of Kady & Co. But chum, the ███████ brilliant thing that Kaufman and Kristoff have done with this book is set Rhys and his unit be the BeiTech version of the morality debate. It can be argued that the pounders on Kerenza have the same protocols as AIDAN: soldiers are conditioned and programmed to follow orders above all else. Morality in times of war fall to the wayside because failing to follow Admiral Sun’s orders is not an option. The conversations that rhys has with his commanding officers mirror those kady has with AIDAN on the morality of the situation.
“This is war!” Oshiro roars. “‘Right’ is whatever the people who’re standing at the end say it is. ‘Right’ is decided by the people who win.”
Sorry this kind of turned into a philosophical analysis of the book, but I honestly just couldn’t help myself! I think a reason that I love this trilogy so much is how many parallels I see with my favorite show Battlestar Galactica, which was the subject of my honors thesis in university. Morality gets blurred in times of war and while it is never right to commit atrocities against humanity, it is important also to realize that history is written by the victors and it is the winning side who will assign blame.
“I have heard it said that evil is simply a point of view. The villain is always the hero in is own story. And the definitions of ‘wrong’ and ‘right’ ever shift on the inconstant tides of human morality.”
One of the things that amuses me when reading young adult SFF is that the teenagers receive no support or hesitation from the adults in the world. A lot of times the book seems to be devoid of adults, which is unrealistic. One of the things that I think is done so well is the pushback and tension from the adults aboard the Mao that think they know better than a bunch of teenagers. We all know that people generally feel like age and seniority automatically makes them the most experienced and knowledgeable person, disregarding the opinions and expertise of their younger counterparts. I see this all the time professionally and am treated like a child because of their preconceived notions, and it was incredibly realistic and powerful to see that power struggle among the crew of the Mao. Just like the lack or morality in war isn’t right, neither is ignoring the expertise of the Illuminae Group and it was exciting to see the main characters do their part and earn the respect of the others.
The characters all continue to grow in this final installment and I enjoyed learning about the process of pulling together the Illuminae Files — and the identities behind the analysts. It seems so obvious now that they’ve been unmasked for me. One of the most resonant parts of the book for me was Hanna grappling with the aftermath of what happened in Gemina. It is obvious that Kaufman and Kristoff took great care in crafting these characters and I am sad to see them go.
BRIEFING NOTE: As with Illuminae and Gemina, I read along with the full-cast audiobook and it was perfection. I love the audiobook so much, but I definitely recommend reading this one with a physical copy so you don’t miss out on the beautiful of Marie Lu’s illustrations. Honestly, this book is a work of art and the audiobook is a masterpiece for the ears.
Overall this was an incredibly satisfying end to an amazing trilogy. While the overarching plot is simple enough, this is a story about the characters. Ordinary people who are put into tough situations and do extraordinary things. No, not magical things chums! They sacrifice themselves for the greater good of others, determined to “live a life worth dying for.” That all people see themselves as the hero of their own story and that in war – as in life – the world is painted in shades of grey.
Kady, Ezra, Hanna, and Nik narrowly escaped with their lives from the attacks on Heimdall station and now find themselves crammed with 2,000 refugees on the container ship, Mao. With the jump station destroyed and their resources scarce, the only option is to return to Kerenza—but who knows what they’ll find seven months after the invasion?
Meanwhile, Kady’s cousin, Asha, survived the initial BeiTech assault and has joined Kerenza’s ragtag underground resistance. When Rhys—an old flame from Asha’s past—reappears on Kerenza, the two find themselves on opposite sides of the conflict.
With time running out, a final battle will be waged on land and in space, heroes will fall, and hearts will be broken.