Double Review: The Infinity Courts by Akemi Dawn Bowman & Descendant of the Crane by Joan He | The Sci-Fi and the Fantasy: Two Beautiful, Twisty and Thoughtful YA Novels

Hello friends! How is July going for you?

For me, after school break in June, it has been such a hectic period loaded with so many projects and academic work. So I apologise for my inactivity and late coming to posts, give me a while to catch up (before I disappear again because of another busy period ah)! However, that being said it has been wonderful to find reprieve in books and I’m truly heartened to share about two beautiful, twisty and thoughtful YA novels that I enjoyed this month!

THE INFINITY COURTS by Akemi Dawn Bowman

Genre(s): Science Fiction | Age Group: Young Adult
Series: The Infinity Courts #1

Publication: 6 April 2021 | Read: 8 July 2021
No. of Pages: 465

Trigger Warnings ↴ Death, Murder, Gun violence

Westworld meets Warcross in this high-stakes, dizzyingly smart sci-fi about a teen girl navigating an afterlife in which she must defeat an AI entity intent on destroying humanity, from award-winning author Akemi Dawn Bowman.

Eighteen-year-old Nami Miyamoto is certain her life is just beginning. She has a great family, just graduated high school, and is on her way to a party where her entire class is waiting for her—including, most importantly, the boy she’s been in love with for years.

The only problem? She’s murdered before she gets there.

When Nami wakes up, she learns she’s in a place called Infinity, where human consciousness goes when physical bodies die. She quickly discovers that Ophelia, a virtual assistant widely used by humans on Earth, has taken over the afterlife and is now posing as a queen, forcing humans into servitude the way she’d been forced to serve in the real world. Even worse, Ophelia is inching closer and closer to accomplishing her grand plans of eradicating human existence once and for all.

As Nami works with a team of rebels to bring down Ophelia and save the humans under her imprisonment, she is forced to reckon with her past, her future, and what it is that truly makes us human.

Goodreads | Amazon

REVIEW

Imagine with me.

Siri/Google/Alexa your virtual assistant tool. I’ve definitely bombarded Siri with countless “I’m bored”s, listened to her as she told me jokes, gave bad punchlines.

And then abruptly, you die.

You awaken in a seeming paradise only to find out that the afterlife is one under the tyranny and at the mercy of the grand ruler. Meet Evil Siri/Google/Alexa, or in this context our Queen (AI) Ophelia.

That is The Infinity Courts for you.

Infinity was never built for you; it was built for dreamers.

Simply by comparing it to “Warcross meeting Westworld” did not do the premise justice, and I went in unaware, and sat in awe as the story unfolded and the world expanded. The Infinity Court is a YA sci-fi that deals with the afterlife, but I felt that the world was so rich that it could have easily passed for a fantasy as well.

After one dies, one is said to enter Infinity, a paradigm constructed by human consciousness for when the physical body was no longer adapt to hold it anymore. When Nami gets murdered on her way to her graduation party, she wakes up here and finds herself entangled in a group of rebels, against Queen Ophelia’s, the real world’s friendly neighbourhood virtual assistant, oppressive rule.

Death and the afterlife is controversial, and for good reason, its tied in with one’s beliefs, shaping their way of life and is also an integral part of religion and cultural conflict. Here, Bowman gives her own fictionalised take on it, and the premise fascinated me so much.

So next time, don’t think about being anyone other than who you are. Because our ability to control our consciousness? That’s the most human thing in the world.

The roles of the human and the technology, the oppressor and the oppressed were reversed in the Infinity Courts, with the AI Residents ruling, and humans as mere servants. And through this seemingly “normal kind of dystopian world” where robots rule, Bowman has expressed many moral and ethical concerns, especially timely with this age of technology.

What sets a piece of intelligent, learned technology apart from the notion of a human being? We confidently say that for humans, emotions are our core, but is technology really incapable of empathy? With the lines of creator and creation blurred in an interdependent society, is coexistence feasible? These were the questions that were thoughtfully addressed through the juxtaposition in beliefs and behaviours of the various characters.

Does feeling bad for monsters make me a monster?

With technology as a core theme, another inevitable one would be that of morality. Nami, our main character, was the perfect personification of this. She died a violent death, woke up in the afterlife shocked… through the book, Nami constantly holds on to her past and refuses to let go, her past being one full of love for her family as well as her friends, whom included Ophelia the AI tech.

Her journey of trying to reconcile with her new feature, so vastly different from the past, but as well as allowing her past to guide her into an alternative point of view on what’s right and what’s wrong the other rebels did not dare open up to, was truly thoughtful and made for a great character arc as she held fast to what she thought was right and chose hope.

Maybe the world could be like that too. A mixture of ideas. A placed where we could all coexist.

No doubt I am struck by how Akemi Dawn Bowman explored these themes, however I did have a few problems with The Infinity Courts, that being our main character Nami. I appreciated how she was fleshed out starting as a naive, and then rather reflective and morally upright person driven by her own ideals, however I felt that we could have been given more depth to her character through understanding more about her past, which served as an important dichotomy to Infinity in the novel.

Nami did well bringing out the aforementioned themes of technology and morality, but the book got rather repetitive. A few twists here and there kept me going, but I felt it was the same few points being questioned again and again, drummed in methodically into my head through the endless rhetorical questions and hypophora utilised. The concept was one I loved, but how it felt reading the same thing over and over? Not so much.

Nevertheless, The Infinity Courts was a fun, fast-paced novel that gave me such a reprieve from our lovely reality. I loved the build-up, the rebel gang, the powers, but one qualm I had was I felt rather underwhelmed by the ending. After a shocking revelation which I did not fully understand but definitely was distraught by, things seemed to go downhill from the grandiose, shattering and game-changing ending I was expecting. It felt a little too easy, and I found it unfortunate that it passed up a potential ending that could have set up dramatic stakes for book 2: The Genesis Wars.

I wonder if infinity is enough time to heal a broken heart.

I was allured by the gorgeous cover and given a beautiful, thoughtful story. Though I felt that Nami’s character was slightly underdeveloped, and the book rather repetitive and underwhelming nearing the end, The Infinity Courts was still a YA Sci-Fi that managed to give me a fun adventure while impressing me with the depth of its themes of technology and morality explored! I’m definitely looking forward to book 2 next April!

rating // ★★★

Check out other lovely reviews for The Infinity Courts: Katie @ Whispering Pages | Ahaana @ Windows to Worlds | Amanda @ Bookish Brews | Eryn @ Love Your Shelf

DESCENDANT OF THE CRANE by Joan He

Genre(s): Fantasy | Age Group: Young Adult
Series: No

Publication: 9 April 2019 | Read: 5 July 2021
No. of Pages: 416

Trigger Warnings ↴ Death, Genocide, Immolation, Murder, Poisoning, Physical violence

Tyrants cut out hearts. Rulers sacrifice their own.

Princess Hesina of Yan has always been eager to shirk the responsibilities of the crown, but when her beloved father is murdered, she’s thrust into power, suddenly the queen of an unstable kingdom. Determined to find her father’s killer, Hesina does something desperate: she engages the aid of a soothsayer—a treasonous act, punishable by death… because in Yan, magic was outlawed centuries ago.

Using the information illicitly provided by the sooth, and uncertain if she can trust even her family, Hesina turns to Akira—a brilliant investigator who’s also a convicted criminal with secrets of his own. With the future of her kingdom at stake, can Hesina find justice for her father? Or will the cost be too high?

In this shimmering Chinese-inspired fantasy, debut author Joan He introduces a determined and vulnerable young heroine struggling to do right in a world brimming with deception.

Goodreads | Amazon

REVIEW

I loved Joan He’s newest release: The Ones We’re Meant to Find, the unique premise filled with so many twists as well as being a meaningful commentary on themes such as technology and climate change, and thus had high hopes for Descendant of the Crane, her debut novel. I was not disappointed in the least.

credits to Read At Midnight for the lovely art
Though it’s an entirely different genre, DOTC is a fantasy while TOWMTF is a science fiction novel, there is something so inherently Joan He that I felt in both books which I loved SO much, be it the writing, the plot twists or just the sensitive characterisation… whatever it was, Descendant of the Crane was a quiet story but one that was thoughtful and thrilling.

You can’t possibly touch all the lives in this world. But if you can lift someone with your two hands, that is enough.

Descendant of the Crane follows Princess Hesina, who is suddenly thrust into power with an unstable kingdom still reeling from her father’s murder. She resorts to illegal acts in times of desperation, finds out many devastating truths, all whilst trying to be a good ruler.

One of the best parts of this book was Hesina’s character arc. In Descendant of the Crane, she grows up fast. Thrust into the position as queen suddenly after her father’s death, from the rather coddled and idealistic girl Hesina was, she quickly learns to harden herself and make the harsh decisions as the whole world turns against her. The burden resting on her shoulders is heavy, she tries to cling onto her father’s teachings as guidance, but struggles with both history, society and even her inner court putting pressure on her.

Tonight, we fell victim to fear. We let it blind us. We thought we were hunting monsters…

She stared out into the sea of flame-washed faces. It took all her strength not to look away. But we were monsters.

credits to The Quiet Pond for the lovely art
Despite her various wishes and well-meaning attempts, nothing goes in the direction that both reader and character wanted it to, and the story, layer by layer, reveal by reveal descended into pure catastrophe in the most brilliant way possible. Joan He weaves so many plot lines together and each twist elicited both terror and dismay from me, all of which led to a stunning climax and a shattering ending that was irritatingly, yet brilliantly open, creating so much potential for expansion! (Allow me to go sob and scream over the epilogue, screw you open endings.)

Through every shocking revelation which shook the barriers of the world, with every painful betrayal, Hesina somehow prevents herself from falling apart, though her bouts of desperation and devastation are fleshed out so poignantly. Instead of being the ruler who appeases her people or does the right thing at any given moment, Hesina hardens herself and does the necessary, her actions drawing the line between good and evil. During her reign as queen, she truly challenged the definition of morality, challenging the utilitarian concept of doing things “for the greater good” and if “the means justify the ends”.

I also loved how Joan He constantly tried to break down and question the motives of other intriguing, albeit less developed side characters, all of which had their own complicated dynamic with Hesina. (also can I start gushing about Sanjing???)

What is truth? Scholars seek it. Poets write it. Good Kings pay gold to hear it. But in trying times, truth is the first thing we betray.

Adding on, Descendant of the Crane was a quiet book, it’s not your typical YA fantasy with quests and magical creatures (contrary to its name), but rather one of courtroom drama and a fascinating “murder” mystery. It was the soft power, the alliances, the backstabbing that mattered. And seeing Hesina try to navigate the court and establish herself in the midst of corruption was such a sight. Political intrigue is such a compelling element of a story, no one can convince me otherwise, Joan He did it wonderfully.

With Hesina’s world dominated both by inner and cross-nation politics with Kendi’a, Joan He goes one step further to develop the world in terms of its history and lore. It’s a world shaped by Chinese mythology, but at it’s core one of institutional oppression. Descendant of the Crane examines a fractured society united by a common hatred, one that rose from the ashes, only to find out that the foundations of the world are cracked beyond repair.

Lastly, I want to mention the theme of truth and knowledge explored in Descendant of the Crane, I loved how though deceivingly similar, the line was drawn between then and how they were wielded as weapons to hurt, to shape a narrative was integrated.

Who isn’t powerless against the will of the cosmos? But who doesn’t try all the same?

Through Descendant of the Crane, Joan He has not only defended her title as the Queen of Plot Twists (and now Political Intrigue too!), but also wove a beautiful character arc as well as gave some thoughtful commentary on truth and morality. I truly enjoyed and raced through this one, would definitely recommend!

rating // ★★★★

Check out other lovely reviews for Descendant of the Crane: Veronica @ Little Corner Reads

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Have you read The Infinity Courts or Descendant of the Crane? What’s a book with the best plot twists?

44 thoughts on “Double Review: The Infinity Courts by Akemi Dawn Bowman & Descendant of the Crane by Joan He | The Sci-Fi and the Fantasy: Two Beautiful, Twisty and Thoughtful YA Novels

  1. Yess I loved both the reviews and omg I totally agree with most of your thoughts on The Infinity Courts. A lot of readers have said that they were left shocked after the revelation at the end, but for me it somehow fell flat and exactly how you described it, and unfortunately this largely impacted my enthusiasm for reading the sequel. The constant repetition of all the questions in Nami’s head infuriated me to no end, and that was honestly the main thing that destroyed this book for me.
    Descendant of the crane does not really seem my type haha but I loved reading your review anyway.
    To answer your question, if you’re looking for plot twists, go no further than Agatha Christie novels. Seriously, some of the twists in her books made me stare at the wall with mouth hanging open and brain trying to process everything for 10 mins straight.
    Amazing post as always Cherelle💙

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you so much Rachel and I’m heartened to hear that you agree, I was rather surprised to see your 1 star review in Goodreads among the many 4/5 ones but upon reading it I share the same sentiments, but I’m still curious to read the sequel because I’m rather curious about a particular character haha. But truly if the sequel is as repetitive and anticlimatic I won’t be progressing further as well.

      Ooh Agatha Christie’s novels are all on my tbr, I’m just a little intimidated by them but I can’t wait to be shocked the same way you were! Thank you for the rec, Rachel! ❤

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Loved reading both of these reviews, especially as both have been on my tbr for a while! Such a shame that The Infinity Courts didn’t quite hit the mark – I’ve seen a lot of mixed reviews for this so it’ll be interesting to see how I find it. Descendant of the Crane sounds so so good so I’m glad that you gave it such a high rating!!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you Emme! Truly, I shared the same sentiments as you at first, being shocked by the alternating one and five star reviews on Goodreads, but it turned out to be a disappointment for me… I’m still glad I gave it a go though, the series is positioned in an interesting direction! On the other hand, Descendant of the Crane was EVERYTHING I wanted in a book
      haha, I hope you’ll enjoy both of them! Can’t wait to hear your thoughts! 💛

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Cherelle!! Thanks for linking my review 😍😭

    There was so much hype around Infinity Courts, sorry to hear it was underwhelming. I’m so glad to you liked Descendant of the Crane!! It’s one of those books that I didn’t like as much when I first finished but got better the more I thought about it because of a lot of the things you mentioned!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Veronica, it was my pleasure, so glad to have found another Sanjing fan! 😉

      Ah The Infinity Courts was disappointing but I have to admit it did set up the premise for the upcoming books well, I’m actually quite curious to read the sequel! You said it perfectly, Descendant of the Crane felt a little underwhelming and annoying at first, mostly because of such an open ending 😭 but it was brilliant! So glad you loved it too! 💕

      Like

  4. Hello Cherelle! I hope all is well with you💙

    As always your reviews are amazing! Thanks for linking my review! I really enjoyed the Infinity Courts but I do agree with some of the points made in your review. Nami’s inner monologue was very repetitive.

    I tried reading Descendant of the Crane years ago but I just couldn’t get into it for some reason. Maybe cause I was reading it because of the hype it was receiving instead of genuine interest in the plot.

    I would say a book that shocked me the most was the end of The Wicked King and probably Children of Blood and Bone.

    Love your posts! Have a great day, evening or night 💙

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Eryn, how are you doing? Thank you for your kind words… despite some flaws like repetitiveness in The Infinity Courts, I’m glad that you enjoyed the story! Ah truly reading a book because of hype instead of interest does affect our perception so much! I hope you’ll give it a second go if the story appeals to you and love it was much as I did!

      Ooh I can definitely agree about The Wicked King, the last 50 pages were truly a ride! Glad to hear about Children of Blood and Bone too, this makes me even more excited to get to it someday! Thank you once again Eryn, take care! 🥰

      Liked by 2 people

      1. Thank you for asking! I’m doing fine. A little stressed and a little down but all around I’m doing fine. But I did get approved for an ARC of a very anticipated book of 2022 so that’s been a highlight of the week 😆

        How are you doing?

        Maybe I will give Descendants of the Crane another go someday.

        Yes. The last plot twist of the Wicked King actually shocked me and not many plot twists do. Here to you hope enjoy Children of Blood and Bone. It can be a hit or miss series, especially with the second book. Plus the series isn’t finished yet so it’s probably a good thing you haven’t read CoBaB 😅

        Liked by 1 person

        1. That’s heartening to hear and ooh congrats, I’ll definitely be awaiting your review! What book was it?

          Thanks for asking, I’m fine, as fine as one can be when school is being a tyrant haha!

          Ooh thank you for sharing, I desperately hope I enjoy it, I’m thinking of binging the series when the final book is out now!

          Liked by 1 person

  5. ahh yess to everything you said about DOTC!! the plot twists and complex relationships made me think so much even after i had finished the book, and SANJING omg!! 🥺 Also yes, i would like to scream over the epilogue with you and all that political intrigue and Chinese mythology! Joan He’s writing is also amazing, I can’t wait to check out TOWMTF. And sorry the infinity courts was a bit underwhelming for you- its on my tbr because of all the high ratings lol.
    Loved your reviews, cherelle!! 💖

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Yay I’m SO glad you agree Janhavi! Truly Joan He’s influence stays even after the book is finished… her release this year the Ones We’re Meant to Find also gave me so much food for thought, I hope you’ll love it so much too! Ah I’m ridiculously happy to find another Sanjing fan, he was definitely my favourite though with the least page time sadly and omg yes the epilogue and all you mentioned, such a genius but till this day I’m still agonising over the open ending 😭

      I hope that you’ll follow the trend of high ratings and enjoy The Infinity Courts! Thank you for the lovely comment, Janhavi! 😘

      Like

  6. omg cherelle! i love these reviews so much! both of these books are such wonderful, twisty (asian!!!) SFF novels, so i’m glad you enjoyed reading them! i haven’t read DOTC yet, but after your description i really need to pick it up soon! i love courtroom drama, and political intrigue (especially when it’s done well), so i can’t wait to see how that aspect is in descendant of the crane! 👀

    the backstabbing, and twists sound like my kinda book too, and with the character arcs, as well as the three dimensional side characters, i guess i really need to pick it up soon. i also loved the ones we’re meant to find, and joan he’s prose is simply beautiful, so i can’t wait to check out this one as well! ❤️

    the infinity courts was also a really beautiful book, but i also found myself underwhelmed at some parts! it was honestly so annoying how “good” nami was, hahahaha i was literally screaming for her to start being selfish 😭 i also wish we’d seen a bit more of her connection with ophelia, because that would have helped add more depth to the story, and maybe?? justified her “goodness”, or hesitance? lmao.

    the twists were honestly so unexpected, and i’m still not sure whether i like the ending, or i don’t, because it was just so sudden, and i didn’t see it coming at ALL haha :’) your copy of it is so gorgeous too, and i’m in love with the map ahhh! 😍

    thank you for linking to my review ❤️

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Ahaana, thank you so much! Oh yes Asian SFF supremacy! Ah I think you will love Descendant of the Crane, it may be a little slow but it’s such a smart and thoughtful story with one of the best political intrigue elements I’ve read interwoven into a fantasy! Omg yes The Ones We’re meant to Find, Joan He’s two novels were honestly very different, but the thoughtfulness and incredible writing truly shine in both!

      I’m happy to hear you enjoyed The Infinity Courts, but also glad that you agreed… I’m hoping for what you mentioned expounded more in the sequel, which I will be definitely reading because despite not enjoying the ending, same here I was shocked and have many questions that need to be answered haha! My pleasure, it was a lovely one! Thank you for the comment, Ahaana! 💕

      Liked by 1 person

  7. Cherelle, I adore your double reviews! These books both sound so interesting to me, and the covers are SO gorgeous. I haven’t read either of them yet but I’ve seen so much about them (especially DOTC) online.

    As for your question regarding a book with the best plot twists… I think I’d probably have to say Mistborn!

    Lovely post as always, I love reading your reviews! ❤

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you Sanah! Indeed both The Infinity Courts and Descendant of the Crane share the common trait of pretty covers and intriguing premises which was what drew me to them! I hope you’ll enjoy both stories if you get to them!

      Ooh I’ve been dying to start on Brandon Sanderson’s work, as a matter of fact, I have the first three books of The Final Empire series staring at me from my shelf haha, I’m even more hyped for it now! Thank you Sanah! 🥰

      Liked by 1 person

  8. I’ve really enjoyed Akemi Dawn Bowman’s books in the past, but I was hesitant to read The Infinity Courts…especially since it’s so different from her past books. I think I’ll still hold off on reading it for now. Great reviews Cherelle!

    Liked by 1 person

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