Robyn Reviews: Infinity Son

Jackie’s thoughts on this book can be found here

‘Infinity Son’ is the fantasy debut of well-known young adult contemporary author Adam Silvera. As is perhaps to be expected, it reads much more like a contemporary than a fantasy novel – and unfortunately, it also highlights how unlikeable protagonists can detract from the entire reading experience.

Brothers Emil and Brighton grew up in New York obsessed by the Spell Walkers, a vigilante group blessed with magical powers. The Spell Walkers defend magical creatures from specters – however, in doing so, New York has become embroiled in violence and brawls. Brighton, an amateur YouTube vlogger, has always wanted to manifest powers of his own and join the Spell Walkers. Emil just wants his brother to be safe. However, when the time comes, it’s Emil – not Brighton – who manifests powers.

The heart of ‘Infinity Son’ is the relationship between the two brothers. They’re total opposites – Emil is quiet, studious, and has no wish for the spotlight, whereas Brighton is entirely driven by his pursuit of fame and glory. They love each other, but Brighton looks down on his brother for many reasons, and Emil’s love for his brother blinds him to Brighton’s many flaws.

The chapters alternate between Emil and Brighton’s perspectives. Unfortunately, Brighton’s chapters are a chore to read simply because Brighton is so unlikeable. He’s an exceptionally selfish person, only interested in fame for himself, and enormously shallow. He’s a teenager, so some emotional immaturity is to be expected, but it doesn’t make his head a pleasant place to be. I found myself tolerating Brighton’s sections only to get to Emil’s.

Emil is an absolute sweetheart of a character. He loves phoenixes, and all he wants is to live a quiet life with his family, study phoenixes, and meet a nice guy. The sudden development of celestial powers throws him completely out of his comfort zone, and his journey learning to manage them is incredibly relatable. He also has a very sweet will-they-won’t-they romantic subplot which is endearing to read about and a nice contrast to the difficulties elsewhere in his life.

The setting and worldbuilding has huge potential. Celestials have powers connected to constellations, but these powers can be stolen and used by others if someone takes their blood. ‘Infinity Son’ is the first in an intended series, so the magic system is barely explored, but it’s one of the strongest parts of the book. However, even for a debut I think it’s under-utilised. New York is barely different with magic to the New York we know without magic, and the phoenixes – extremely cool creatures who feature surprisingly rarely in modern fantasy – play a much smaller role than they could. It definitely feels like a contemporary novel which happens to feature fantasy elements, instead of like a fully-fledged fantasy novel.

Overall, ‘Infinity Son’ isn’t my sort of book, but it will likely appeal to fans of contemporary young adult novels looking for something a bit different. The potential is there for a sequel to be much stronger.

Published by Simon & Schuster
Paperback: January 14th 2020

Book Review: Infinity Son

Infinity Son, by Adam Silvera, is YA fantasy fiction that may appeal most to readers who enjoy the action in on-line video games. Set in a world where certain people are born with a variety of extraordinary powers (celestials), and others who choose to acquire powers through forms of cruel and risky alchemy (specters), the plot evolves through numerous violent and bloody fight scenes. There are goodies and baddies with several characters moving between the warring factions.

The protagonists are two brothers who, when the story opens, are on the eve of their eighteenth birthdays. Brighton is the outwardly gregarious one. He has done well academically and is looking forward to his imminent departure from the family home in New York for college in Los Angeles. He is also eager for internet fame, working hard at garnering attention for his YouTube channel and associated social media accounts. He has long dreamed of attaining powers such as those wielded the Spell Walkers he idolises. He follows the group’s vigilante activity as these young celestials try to rid the world of specters.

Brighton’s brother, Emil, is happier out of the limelight his brother craves. He works at a museum gift shop, hoping soon to be moved to a department specialising in phoenix history and preservation. Magical creatures such as these are threatened by the ambitions of the specters who hunt them for blood and body parts to add to potions that enable or increase their powers.

The more ordinary citizens of the city are wary of the cycle of violence that surrounds both celestials and specters. With politicians preparing for an important election, bringing the powered beings under control has become a key issue. Such a threat has driven many specters and celestials underground. When captured they are forced to assist the law enforcers by helping create weapons that can harm their peers.

A constellation known as the Crowned Dreamer has arrived in the night sky. This increases the powers of the celestials. Brighton hopes it will ignite his own latent powers which he is convinced will soon manifest.

The brothers attempt to join a social gathering where Brighton hopes to capture footage for his channel. Instead, both Emil and Brighton are drawn into a war that will change their views on the Spell Walkers and what their heroes are risking lives to achieve.

Beneath the endless battle scenes is desire for revenge, power and acceptance. A reluctant hero refuses to compromise his principles resulting in additional deaths and associated guilt. He is asked to: save others, save his family, save the world, save himself. Unnamed and unnumbered characters die to enable key people to somehow survive and fulfil quests. The battles fought are video game pastiche. There is angst and soul searching about the hand that has been dealt but little concern is voiced for the many unknowns killed.

Brighton’s attempts to control the narrative through social media PR was an interesting thread that felt contemporary. Too much of this story, though, was first person shooter with a change of background scenery and evolving objective.

Some interesting ideas are explored but few felt original. Supernatural powers are harnessed as weapons. Venal politicians do dangerous deals for personal benefit. Characters discover that those who raised them are not their birth parents. Ordinary people are encouraged to fear those who are different. Love interests offer a chance for redemption. Loss increases power but shadows principles.

The denouement was fitting given how the story is developed. This is the start of what I believe is to be a series and there is plenty left for the author to work with. However, unless he comes up with something more than battles between troubled or egregious beings, I’m not sure I would want to read further. The young people the book is aimed at, who have perhaps not yet read as much fantasy fiction and enjoy descriptions of fights and mayhem, may find it more compelling.

My copy of this book was provided by my daughter who was gifted a proof at a convention.