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.
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.
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.
Infinity was never built for you; it was built for dreamers.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Does feeling bad for monsters make me a monster?
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.
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!
I wonder if infinity is enough time to heal a broken heart.
rating // ★★★
DESCENDANT OF THE CRANE by Joan He
Genre(s): Fantasy | Age Group: Young Adult
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
Who isn’t powerless against the will of the cosmos? But who doesn’t try all the same?
rating // ★★★★
Check out other lovely reviews for Descendant of the Crane: Veronica @ Little Corner Reads