Over the last few years, Adam Silvera has quickly become one of my favorite writers. If he has a new book out, I will buy it, no question. That was especially true for Infinity Reaper because I loved the first book, Infinity Son, which came out last year. Infinity Son ended on a heck of a cliffhanger, and I was anxious to return to Emil and Brighton’s world to see what would happen.
What’s it about?
(Spoilers for Infinity Son)
At the end of book one, the heroes defeated Luna at great personal cost. Possessed by June, Maribelle killed Atlas. Even worse, instead of disposing of the Reaper’s Blood, Brighton gave into his megolomania and drank it. Infinity Reaper builds directly off of that ending. Maribelle vows vengeance upon June and tracks down a weapon that will allow her to kill the ghost specter. Brighton’s desire for power at any cost terrifies his friends and family, particularly Emil, and the pursuit of power doesn’t come as easily as he expected: instead of powering him up, the Reaper’s Blood is slowly poisoning him. As for Ness, he has been returned to his corrupt father, and is being used to spread lies about celestials.
What’d I think?
It took me a bit to get back into the world, to be honest, even though I did reread Infinity Son right before. I think I was expecting to dive right back into the worst of it and delve into Brighton’s megalomania. Instead, Brighton gets very ill with blood poisoning. Reflecting back after having read the whole book, this part of the book works really well. It feeds Brighton’s desire for power, connects him back to the trauma of witnessing his father’s death, and allows the characters to grapple with his pursuit of powers separately from his possession of powers. If Brighton had been all-powerful from the jump, there wouldn’t have been enough room for the slow growth of concern. Brighton would have been too powerful to question, and having his power-up parallel his emotional journey was the right call. At the time, though, I was impatient to see the Reaper’s Blood in action. I guess I was like Brighton in that way. Ultimately, slow buildups make for more satisfying payoffs, and while the first quarter or so of Infinity Reaper could have moved a bit faster, I’m not mad at it.
I rewatched some of the X-Men movies shortly after reading Infinity Reaper, and it was interesting to enjoy them in such close proximity. I know that the Infinity Cycle was inspired at least in part by the X-Men, so I found it fascinating to compare the two stories. I last watched X-Men before I was at all politically aware, so even though I knew it was political, I didn’t realize quite to the degree. X-Men is about a registration bill and Infinity Reaper takes its inspiration very clearly from the Trump era, with Senator Iron (the Republican nominee much beloved of
Fox Wolf News) as the discriminatory, hypocritical, damaging Trump stand-in. I’ve always found fantasy the most satisfying when it engages with real-world issues, and both Infinity Reaper and X-Men do that. While X-Men’s primary inspiration seems to be as a queer metaphor (Bobby even has a coming out scene in X2), Silvera’s story is more interested in power: who has it, what it does to people, and what people will do to get it. Celestial/mutant power isn’t a queer metaphor in the Infinity Cycle. It doesn’t have to be, for one thing (pretty much everyone is queer; Emil, Ness, Maribelle, Iris, Eva, Wyatt, and Tala are all either gay or bi/pan). In the Infinity Cycle, power isn’t a metaphor. It’s power, and unlike queerness, power is a choice. It’s telling that while celestials are much persecuted, it’s the specters who dominate the series. Brighton chose his powers. Ness chose his powers. While Emil did not choose to have his powers, he has the option to lose them. Is possessing specter power immoral? Does it matter what one does with the power once it is obtained? Is it possible to have as much power as Brighton does and not be corrupted by it? Is there a greater good that can be achieved with the powers that counterbalances the evil of having killed an endangered creature to obtain it? The Infinity Cycle grapples with all these questions.
I also just reread Leigh Bardugo’s Grisha trilogy, and it was fascinating to do so right after Infinity Reaper, because it also includes characters killing rare creatures for power and then using that power to fight human evil. It’s weird how the stories I gravitate to often have overlaps. What does power cost, and is it worth it? How much bad can one do and still overweigh it with good? Alina and Emil have a lot in common, when you think about it.
Infinity Reaper definitely builds on its inspirations. At the start, Ness is very Mystique, but he very quickly became my favorite character because he’s much more than just a shapeshifter. I mean, the shapeshifting is very cool, but if that’s all he was he wouldn’t have nearly the allure of Emil or Brighton or the others. I’m fascinated by Ness, who is the product of his upbringing even more than the usual. With a different father, he might’ve been a small-scale actor, but instead he found himself in the middle of it all, being used by some of the most dangerous people in the world. He also complicates the specter issue, because it’s obvious to look at Brighton or Stanton and say that stealing power and becoming a specter is wrong. It’s harder with Ness, because he took that power to get himself out of a really bad situation. It’s easy to say that the power is evil on paper, but complex characters can complicate anything, and Ness isn’t power hungry or cruel; he’s a kid trying to escape the life or manipulation and racism he was raised into.
I love it that, even though the main plot is about saving the world, there are still lots of smaller, more human stories. My favorite part of Infinity Son was the brotherly bond between Emil and Brighton, and that remains strong here, even though it has obviously been complicated by Brighton’s dangerous decisions. Emil learned in the original book that being the chosen one doesn’t save you from insecurities, and he continues to work through those in Infinity Reaper. And then there’s Maribelle. It’s no surprise that the author of History is All You Left Me wrote a compelling storyline about grief, but it’s still impressive. There’s a lot of anger mixed with her sadness, and it’s at times difficult to read, because she’s so obviously going down a bad path, but at the same time you can never really fault her because you can feel her raw hurt.
Infinity Reaper does everything a sequel is supposed to do. It expands and complicates the original plotline, it introduces some compelling new characters, and it lets us get to know our main heroes even better than we did before. The second book of a series is, to me, always the most important. Lots of people can write the start to a great story. It’s much harder to keep the momentum, to rev it up into something bigger. The first book has to do the heavy lifting of introducing the main cast, setting the rules of a new universe, and setting the scene for the major conflicts. Sequels have more wiggle room to play. Secondary characters get fleshed out more (I loved seeing more of Wes and his family this time around). The emotions all feel bigger because we as readers are already invested in the characters. I love reading sequels. There’s nothing more exciting than opening a book that contains characters I adore, but with adventures I know nothing of. Because of htat, there’s nothing more disappointing than a bad sequel. Thankfully, Infinity Reaper is not a bad sequel. I expected to love it and I did love it.
What’s the verdict?
I never know how to write about great books. It’s a lot harder to explain why I liked something than why I didn’t. Infinity Reaper is a great sequel to a great book. Adam Silvera remains a favorite of mine. As an amateur writer myself, I know how hard it is to write the big emotions, but Silvera takes his many characters through the gambits of grief and anger and fear and desire and never falters. These are great characters. They are complex beyond their tropes, and their complicated relationships are as interesting—if not more so—than their magical powers or struggles. Infinity Reaper is emotionally resonant, politically relevant, and immensely entertaining. I thought the cliffhanger was bad at the end of Infinity Son; I had no idea what was waiting for me at the end of this one. I can’t wait for book three.