The Illuminae trilogy, a unique hard sci-fi told through documents, fictional IMs, and transcribed security camera footage, meets its explosive end in Obsidio, an ambitious, point-of-view packed tale of daring escape and conspiracy. Though it revisits familiar thrills, Obsidio‘s dogged attempt to live up to the promises of its predecessors lands it in a common young-adult-trilogy malaise, wasting precious time to dredge up buried moral quandaries, provide neat endings for its ever-expanding crew, and adding to its tedious, wavering stack of plot elements. The volume, ultimately, is a flame that burns with more light than heat.
Obsidio opens on Kerenza, a mining colony that has secretly outlasted the attacks that sent our two original leads fleeing from it in book one. BeiTech, the shady interstellar mega-corp, has established a presence there after they attacked, and is using the colony’s resources to refuel an abandoned ship, the Magellan, for a light-years long escape. No word comes from overhead about what they’re going to do with the now-illegal, presumed deserted colony once they’ve extracted what they need, but BeiTech’s history tells us it isn’t good.
Asha Grant, cousin of Illuminae‘s Kady Grant, is stuck on the planet working as a medic, witness to BeiTech’s increasingly brazen abuses of power. Just as she and a cohort of dissidents begin to suspect that BeiTech has it in for the whole colony once the Magellan is refueled, Asha’s ex-boyfriend, Rhys Lindstrom, makes planetfall, but he’s in a BeiTech uniform, and fighting on the wrong side.
There’s a lot to admire in Obsidio‘s far-reaching scope: in addition to the six deuteragonists now at the series’ helm, it’s also about the struggles of other hapless captains, privates, and civilians caught in the crossfire. It’s not rare that Obsidio will take an interlude away from the action to show us a morally grey BeiTech operative wrestling with the immorality of her orders, or a Kerenza citizen struggling against corrupt rule. But to commit to this kind of storytelling requires substantial investment, and the multiple protagonists and simultaneous storylines expose the glaring flaw in starting an undertaking this big: Obsidio, despite its 615 pages, just isn’t long enough.
Compared with the time we were given to get to know Kady and Ezra in Illuminae, and Hanna, Nik, and Ella in Gemina, Asha and Rhys’ impact in Obsidio is negligible aside from the glimpses of Kerenza cutting to their perspective gives us. They’re familiar archetypes as well, the Responsible One and the Renegade, some of their scenes and plot points easily replicable in the trilogy’s other installments. Also, because the novel is split so many ways, the original characters have minimal, glossed-over arcs, playing roles that feel like callbacks or Easter eggs, with their most pivotal moments behind them.
Ending with an ensemble combined from previous books isn’t unheard of in YA: one of the most popular examples of this in recent years is Marissa Meyer’s Lunar Chronicles, which introduce a new pair every book, culminating in an eight-character lineup. But the page count is a not-insignificant force behind why this works: the last book is an enchiridion to book one’s single-sitting romp. Obsidio, as a consequence of its limited supply of page time, is constantly short on space. Everything feels rushed as a result, form the change of heart that smacks Rhys Lindstrom in the face before it’s ripe, to the high-stakes tragedies that seem forgotten all too soon.
A.I.D.A.N, short for Artificial Intelligence Defense Analytics Network, is a computer that’s played an outsize role through the series, managing each book’s waves of successive crises with questionable and unsparing methods. This is examined thoughtfully and poignantly in Illuminae, but when it returns in Obsidio, the scenario feels recycled. Worse––trivialized. In the moment, the writing behind A.I.D.A.N.’s scuffles with morality is equal parts beautiful and terrifying, but when it comes time for the other characters to work through the fallout, the gravity of these actions is lost entirely, owing to the fact that they’ve already been trotted out and fussed over, and to revisit them neither furthers A.I.D.A.N.’s development as a character or does any service to the progression of plot. It does play into the advent of a mutiny, a compelling subplot with some heavy impact, but it isn’t strictly necessary for even this purpose. The discontent brewing on the battleship has plenty enough to feast on already, and this extra, superfluous nail in the coffin wastes that precious resource any other element of the novel could handily put to use: time.
Time, simply put, is in such short supply because Obsidio is scattered across star systems––it stretches impressively beyond its limits, but the messages get garbled over such a distance. It’s trying to be too much. It’s trying to accommodate too much. It’s the explosive finale bigger and better than ever before, unwilling, like a host of YA sci-fi finales, to make any sacrifices. It does have an astonishingly high death toll, but it doesn’t have the time to linger on it, and we don’t even notice the fallen, before or after they’re gone.