Call me biased. It is fine. I’ve been on the Adam Silvera Bandwagon since the Alan-Ya Conference in St. Louis. Despite my attempts to stay clear of anything before writing my review, I’ve become aware of some of the knocks against Infinity Son. I’m going to address them. Not just from my point of view as a reader, but as a New Yorker because I think that might have a lot to do with it. I could be wrong, but it is my hot take on some of it. However, before I get into all of the nitty-gritty, I want to bottom line something.
A wise musician, ok I think he is wise, from a relatively unknown welsh band (outside of the UK) once said that a song is kind of like a loaded baked potato. You can take a baked potato and load it up with cheese and broccoli and sour cream and bacon, and whatever else you want. But at the end of the day? If the baked potato, i.e. the song, isn’t any good? It doesn’t matter what you put on it. If the song sucks. Nothing will cover that up.
Heart of A Story
This is important because at the heart of Infinity Son is a wonderful story. No matter what you think of everything that is put on top of that story that slides it into the fantasy genre? The nuts and bolts of Infinity Son make it a beautifully crafted story. Silvera, as always, has weaved together the basic story elements necessary for the spine that holds together a story that takes readers on a wondrous ride, no matter what genre, category or format it is placed. I get that there are groans over the setting, i.e. world building. I’ll get to it.
Emil and Brighton. Brothers. Two New York City brothers. And they are written nor short of exactly what they are. In verbiage and body language. In everything they imbibe where they grew up and who they are to each other. You take away the fact that this is a fantasy novel and they couldn’t be written more perfectly. And at the end of the day, all that means is when you add the elements of a fantasy novel on top of them? It is what makes an urban fantasy work so well.
As I was reading Infinity Son I could hear their voices so perfectly in my head it was like listening to my cousins in my head, when I was growing up. Mind you the language, slang, code switching or whatever you want to call it might have been different, but the tone remains the same from generation to generation. And when I was teaching in East Flatbush, Brooklyn up through just shy of ten years ago, it wasn’t much different.
Thank you to HarperCollins and Edelweiss for an ARC in exchange for an honest review.
It brings a real grounding and authentic reality to them in comparison to the group of Spell Walkers that they fall in with. The way they think, talk and hold themselves are completely different. While they might live in New York, they aren’t living on the streets of New York. Their verbiage and entire mindset are going to be different. The contrast is a reality and it plays-off very well.
It gives greater depth to the story line of Emil finding his powers vs. those who have had them their whole life. There are more differences between them than just those with powers and he who just figured it out. There is a personality contrast, an ideology clash and a social-construct clash. Those things aren’t easily overcome. And they are central to the character arcs.
The secondary characters are also well-flushed out with backstories of their own. Some, of course, more than others. It is the first book in a series, and I’m sure there is more to come.
Two characters have both lost their parents in the same war, for different reasons. They are handling that loss completely different. One is out for vengeance, while the other is using it as a rationale to take the roll of leader in all things. The repercussions of their parent’s death and how they handle it causes a chasm that ends up having devastating effects.
I wasn’t going to do this, this early on but it seems to fit in with the discussion of Emil and Brighton being written so authentically. So, let’s air this one out. Here’s the thing. The world is New York City. The five boroughs. Here’s the other thing. When you spend most of your life in New York City, admittedly? New Yorkers (and I can’t speak for Silvera, obviously so please, know this is my take on the matter only) can have a bit of a shortsighted view on the world’s perception of New York.
For instance- I had absolutely no issue with the world building in Infinity Son because the world was New York City with a fantasy twist- Urban Fantasy. However, I also lived there for 32 years. When things like Central Park or the subway or brownstones with fire-escapes, block parties, Times Square and specificity around Brooklyn or the Bronx are mentioned? I can conjure that in my mind as quick as the Arch or the mountains now outside my patio.
If you’ve never lived in NYC and you haven’t watched a TV show based in NYC, and even if you have that reference point is probably not enough? Then this is going to be hard. But in Silvera’s defense, I’m not sure where the balance point is there. I mean, at what point, does describing Central Park sound weird, for lack of a better word? It Central freaking Park. However, having lived there for 32 years, I might be the wrong person to give an opinion. To me? I fell right into this perfect fantasy/magic version of NYC because I lived there. It just clicked and made perfect and made sense.
New York City already exists. So how do you build a world that isn’t created from the imagination? Any further explanation, beyond the details given, would have dragged the book. But again? I lived there for 32 years and maybe that is the rub?
I’m going to walk a tightrope here because of spoilers but there is a lot. By a lot I mean this in the best of ways. From the summary you expect there to be struggles around loyalty, love and figuring out how to do the right thing in a world that is morally complicated. Phewwww. Yeah.
What that doesn’t tell you is how much more below the surface that goes. It isn’t just about being the unknowing chosen one. It is about having about a hundred more unknowns thrown at you on top of the fact that you have manifested these magical powers all of a sudden. Because, Silvera isn’t letting this go as some random act of magical (un)kindness, depending on how you look at it.
There is a rational (rational by urban fantasy standards) explanation and that just shakes Emil’s world up even more. There’s great I’m this chosen one who has to make these huge decisions all of a sudden then there is I’m that and then … what in the ever loving…
Because. Yeah. At some point I would have been like… yeah. Anything else. Because like you could straight up tell me that I have to go find a ten colored unicorn to bargain with Rumpelstiltskin and I wouldn’t be half shocked. Or maybe tell me Brighton is Voldemort… sure why not. Let’s go. I mean. Just. Wow.
Beyond that it isn’t just Emil. Brighton. Oh Brighton. Among this cast of characters there is truly something for everyone to relate to. Who doesn’t want to be valued, to feel valued? It isn’t an age thing or a gender thing. Whatever the reasons are, we all want to feel valued. When you get to a point where you don’t feel important to anyone or valued, then we don’t feel seen.
It is almost like you’ve been erased from the world. No matter what is important to you, if no one sees it, it is almost like it doesn’t matter because who is there to recognize the existence of it. And you will do anything to make your existence whole. And Brighton does everything he can, in the only way he knows how to try and keep himself relevant in the face of Emil’s newfound powers and place in this war of magic.
When you feel invisible? What won’t you do to feel seen, important and a part of something? And your heart breaks for him. He was about to leave for college. Like the next day. You can’t help but laugh when he says it, but at the same time break for him too, because you know he sees himself getting lost in the events that are about to overtake his life…
No one believed me. I knew we weren’t going to be screwed with a normal life. I called it… Right now, Emil is the only soldier the Spell Walkers are interest in, but I’ll prove to them that I can be a weapon too.
And now Brighton has to decide. What is more important? Being there for Emil or grabbing power for himself? Is his place in the world supporting his brother or being out for himself?
Plot Twists Pre-Conflict
All of the above brings together a multitude of cataclysmic cascade of conflicts against an evil lady hellbent on becoming immortal. And she will do it anyway she can.
Diversion about Plot Twists: I’m not sure when but at some point, in the last… I don’t know six months or so Silvera said something on Twitter (and I’m gonna paraphrase this) that, at first, made me go cross-eye and actually a bit sad. I can’t say I disagreed with it because, quite frankly, I don’t know that I understood it.
He basically said that it isn’t a bad thing if you saw a plot twist coming because most of the time a writer lays it out for you all along and if you go back and look you’ll realize you should’ve seen it coming. And furthermore that his friends get annoyed with him because he can read the summary of a book or watch a show and call it all out because, well – ok still, on that front I just think he’s better at deductive reasoning than I am (I’m just going to speak for me- maybe he saw Iron Man dying but I thought it was Captain America the whole time).
Anyhow, after he said that though, I started catching on. Yes, there are twists you won’t see coming and that’s awesome. But there are some you will see coming and that’s awesome, too. That doesn’t mean that the book was predictable, at all. In fact, some of the best I’ve seen recently- like Scavenge the Stars, for example, are the ones where there is a twist that I saw coming but within that big twist is a sub-twist within it (I think I just made up a word) that I definitely did not see coming. Those are awesome.
Ok back to conflict. The reason I bring that up is because within this conflict there are a multitude of spoilery things that happen. Some of which I saw coming and some of which I most definitely did not see coming. The ones I did see coming? Didn’t take away from the energy of the book because of the emotional force put behind the it.
In other words, there is so much effort put into the building of the characters and the development of them as people that it isn’t always about the big reveal as it is about the effect of the reveal on the stakeholders. So even if I see the reveal coming a mile away? The anticipation for it remains because I’m dreading the impact and conflict that will ensue. Having a big reveal that is earth shattering is one thing. Playing out the emotional fallout is quite another. Doing both, of course is optimal.
The conflict surrounding the twists I saw coming, the ones I did not see coming and the climatic point of it all was suspenseful enough to glue me to my Kindle for way longer than my bladder and stomach were happy about. Not to mention that once a certain set of dominoes were set into motion. They didn’t stop. And again, while there were bigger events that could be predicted pretty far out, others that happen during that course of events not only were quite a surprise but were serious complications in an already complicated situation.
We can’t really talk about resolution- because
1) The ending… Damn you Silvera. You owe me my feelings back. I hate series.
2) Spoilers. But…