Gemina: The Illuminae Files, Book 2

Book review by
Sandie Angulo Chen, Common Sense Media
Gemina: The Illuminae Files, Book 2 Book Poster Image
Intensely thrilling sequel introduces roguish new heroes.

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A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this book.

Educational Value

Readers will learn a bit about tactics, strategy, and war history. Hanna's journal is filled with quotes by Sun Tzu, Napoleon Bonaparte, and the like, and she discusses the Battle of Thermopylae with Ella and Nik. A character talks about Pascal's Wager, a theory of how people bet their lives on whether or not God exists.

Positive Messages

Like in Illuminae, the positive messages here are about teamwork and trust during difficult times, the need for transparency and truth so people understand the context of situations, and the power of love (all types -- romantic, family, friendship) to propel you to make courageous decisions.

Positive Role Models & Representations

Hanna's an intelligent, fearless main character who makes questionable choices at first but nonetheless proves herself much more than the ice princess she's thought to be. She saves people with her bravery, smarts, fighting skills, and determination. Nik's also a roguish character, being a drug-dealing ex-con, but he's also courageous, strong, and dedicated to protecting Ella, helping Hanna, and doing what he can to be more than the no-good criminal he's presumed to be. Ella is, like Kady, a small but powerful and incredibly smart hacker.

Violence

Loads of violence: There's a military-style special-ops team that aims to neutralize and/or kill everyone aboard the Heimdall. People are killed in graphic and cold-blooded ways. Most people are killed at close range by a host of high-tech weapons/guns, but others are killed by parasitic alien creatures that strangle and otherwise pacify their prey and then feast on their insides before growing so large they slither out of their hosts. Others are deliberately "purged" out of airlocks into space, where they die nearly immediately from exposure. There are several scenes of hand-to-hand, weapon-to-weapon combat.

Sex

A few mentions of a teen couple's sexually active, romantic relationship, including comments about how the girl will "make it up" to the guy and how her underwear is clearly meant to be seen by him. A suggestive pop song about a girl sucking on a lollipop is referenced many, many times. Two characters exchange sexually charged banter, with lots of double entendres and jokes about their bodies, showering, and so on. Two special-ops agents are known to have been sleeping together, against protocol. A couple kisses passionately.

Language

As in Illuminae, the curse words are "redacted" (edited out with a black bar) because they are transcripts of conversations. But readers can still guess what they are (most of the time it's obvious from the letters left in each word). The black bars cover words such as "f--k," "f--king," "s--t," "bitch," "ass" and more.  Some characters' statements require more redactions than others.

Consumerism
Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

The crime family sells a drug -- "dust" -- derived from the slime of a parasitic alien creature. It's used recreationally and medicinally throughout the novel to help critically injured characters stay alive/awake/aware. In one case, a large dose of it is even used to kill someone. Characters admit to buying and using the drug. That's how Hanna and Nik know each other; he's her drug dealer.

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that Gemina is the sequel to Australian co-authors Amie Kaufman and Jay Kristoff's best-selling space thriller Illuminae. Like the first book, this one's told through a collection of chat and video transcriptions that follow two imperiled teens who must work together to save the people around them from certain death. Readers familiar with the series will know to expect a large body count, as characters die from being executed at close range; in explosions; from being ejected into space; and, in this installment, from a group of starving alien parasites desperate for their next meal. Since the book is a series of document transcriptions, strong language is blacked out, although it's easy to tell which curse words are used. There are references to a sexually active teen relationship as well as ongoing suggestive comments between members of another couple, but only two kisses are described. Protagonists Hanna and Nik are both roguish characters with an iffy connection (he's her drug dealer), but they rise to the occasion to show they're brave, resourceful, and smart allies.

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What's the story?

GEMINA: THE ILLUMINAE FILES, BOOK 2 follows the catastrophic events of Illuminae from the perspective of a new teen duo who must defy the odds to save the people around them. When we left the story of Kady and Ezra, they had narrowly escaped the destruction of the Alexander on the small research ship Hypatia, which carries the only survivors who know that an interstellar mega-corporation was responsible for the attack on their now-destroyed mining colony, Kerenza. The Hypatia's only hope is to land at the Heimdall space station. On the Heimdall, Hanna Donnelly is the station commander's beautiful and privileged daughter with a secret penchant for the drug that Nik Malikov, nephew to a crime boss, secretly sells her. Unbeknownst to them, on board the Heimdall is a corporate spy who helps a ship full of elite assassins land to make sure the Hypatia never makes it -- but first they must neutralize or kill everyone at the station. Having survived the initial takeover because of their drug deal, Hanna and Nik work together, with the help of Nik's wheelchair-using hacker cousin Ella, to be like the Spartans vs. the corporation's Persians.

Is it any good?

Equally as intense as Illuminae, this space sequel raises the stakes of the game between a big bad corporation and the indomitable determination of teens who refuse to stop fighting. While Illuminae is about figuring out who's behind the assault on Kerenza (and the deadly bio-weapon unleashed on the fleet), Gemina is a race against the clock. Readers already know who's to blame (BeiTech Industries) and why the black-ops agents are so cold-blooded (they're paid security warriors sent to clean up their boss' mess -- meaning make sure there are no witnesses). Hanna and Nik are very different lead characters compared with rule-following Ezra and truth-following Kady. Perceived as a princess and a criminal, Hanna and Nik defy the assumptions about them to work together and take on the BeiTech assassins, not to mention a group of murderous alien parasites accidentally set loose on the station. These two aren't together when the book starts, but they team up quite perfectly, each using their years of strategy games and martial arts (Hanna) and juvenile-detention-honed street smarts (Nik) to their collective advantage.

Hanna and Nik don't have the "first love" history that made Kady and Ezra's romance so compelling. But they do have a will-they-or-won't-they charged banter (and of course that age-old setup of the privileged girl and edgy guy) that keeps their interactions fun to read. There's a pretty big complication in the form of Hanna's junior officer boyfriend Jackson, but love-triangle haters should be pacified by how the authors resolve that obstacle. Adding to the hilarious conversations between Hanna and Nik is Ella, a tiny but fierce hacker reminiscent of Kady. Because cousins Ella and Nik belonged to the House of Knives crime family, neither of them is officially on the Heimdall census, making her hacking abilities even more difficult to track. And for those who miss Kady and Ez, never fear, for they make a prominent appearance in the last third of the story. Although one can easily read Gemina via e- or audiobook, there's a particular thrill to reading this pulse-pounding series, with all its found documents, illustrations, graphs, and schematics in print. Bring on Book 3!

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about the violence in Gemina. How does it compare with the violence in Illuminae?

  • Does this installment have role models? Who are they? What character strengths do they exhibit?

  • What are the advantages of reading an "epistolary" book, where the story is told through letters or documents? What are the limitations? Do you think it's confusing?

  • How does the romance in this Gemina compare with the central romance in Illuminae? How are Hanna and Nik different from Kady and Ezra? They're both opposites-attract love stories, but this adds a class/status (the bad boy and the princess) theme. Does it work? 

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