Genres: Queer Protagonists, Sci Fi, Science Fantasy
Representation: Sapphic autistic MC, F/F, secondary nonbinary characters
PoV: Third-person, past-tense, multiple PoVs
Published on: 24th January 2023
Final instalment from Philip K Dick Award-nominated series from Ada Hoffmann
Time is running out for the planet Jai. The artificially intelligent Gods who rule the galaxy have withdrawn their protection from the chaos-ravaged world, just as their most ancient enemy closes in. For Yasira Shien, who has devoted herself to the fragile planet's nascent rebellion, it's time to do or die – and the odds are overwhelming.
Enter Dr. Evianna Talirr. Talirr, the visionary who decimated the planet and began its rebellion, is not a woman to be trusted. But she's returned with an unsettling prophecy: the only way to save Jai is for Yasira to die.
Yasira knows it can't be that simple. But as she frantically searches for other options, what she finds will upend everything she knew about the Gods, the galaxy she lives in, and herself.
I received this book for free from the publisher via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.
~believe you deserve better
~the Keres is coming
~angels will fall
~Saviour’s gonna save
~if no one in the universe will help you, look outside the universe
*spoilers for The Outside and The Fallen, books one and two of the trilogy!*
Hoffman’s debut trilogy has, since day one, anchored a far-future epic of AI gods and reality-breaking monsters in the human element, giving us a story leviathanic in scope but close and personal and intimate at the same time. It’s a big part of what gives these books so much punch; the fact that we can’t, even for one moment, forget how these big sweeping events affect people on an individual level – people who are so real and sympathetic that it’s instead very easy to forget that they’re fictional. This trilogy has never allowed us to forget that ‘the masses’ have names, that the bystanders have hopes and dreams and families, that the heroes on the front line have bad mental health days way more often than anyone would like.
There has never been the option to ‘zoom out’ on (and thus emotionally distance ourselves from) the conflict Yasira and her friends are caught up in; Hoffman’s given us glimpses of the Big Picture, but has always kept us grounded, focussed on the Little Picture, the human element. And that gives the big finale of this trilogy a unique flavour, more realistic than such conclusions tend to be. The adjectives that spring to mind all carry a negative connotation – mundane, banal, prosaic – and that’s not how I mean it!
Maybe it would be more accurate to say that, despite all the sci-fi and outright supernatural elements, this universe-changing climax feels grounded. Grounded in reality; The Infinite is not the breathtaking but bloodless kind of sweeping epic reminiscent of ancient poetry…but it is, instead, a great and fundamentally human resolution that I can believe in.
It’s not perfect: that ‘zooming in’ on the brainstorming, planning, and preparations for a battle the Chaos Zone probably won’t survive does make it all feel a little…ordinary? Not routine, exactly, but…well, 99% of any battle/war is the logistics of everything that needs to be arranged before anyone steps onto the battlefield; and the practical, realistic approach to those logistics was not something I found very gripping. It’s not that the characters aren’t terrified and scrambling and turning to allies and weaponry they couldn’t even have imagined a book ago – because they are; all of that is happening! But I think it must be incredibly difficult, if not outright impossible, to make that kind of step-by-step process into something thrilling.
Even when some of those steps involve testing and experimenting with monsters and magical powers, or reaching outside of the universe for help, or making common cause with people you never thought you’d ally with.
It’s the methodical way in which the cast go through their ideas, and the action-plans born from those ideas, that turned the dial down on all the anxiety, I think. This is something that definitely happens in real life – when you’re terrified, focussing on the practical things, on what to do next, is one way to calm down. And so here, in Infinite, it had that effect on me – calming me down when the narrative seemed to be doing its best to amp me up. Despite the highest of stakes, I just didn’t feel the urgency and fear and dread that I think I should have been feeling.
But I’m not convinced I was supposed to, especially since Hoffman deftly braids many other threads through this finale that most definitely are interesting. Akavi and Elu’s chapters were some of the best in The Fallen, and I massively appreciated their part in The Infinite – particularly now that the whole gang is back together, after kidnapping Enga at the end of The Fallen! Akavi’s lust for vengeance against Nemesis contrasts wonderfully with the desperate desire of Yasira and the Chaos Zone to just be left alone, and there are some jaw-dropping twists and reveals into the nature of the angels and the gods they serve.
Another plotline that snatched my attention was our glimpse into the past; for the first time, we’re shown the – the birth of the gods, I guess you could call it; woven through the main story is the arc of one of the scientists who was fundamental in designing, building, and perfecting Nemesis Herself. This is obviously taking place hundreds of years in Yasira’s past, but not very far away from our present, which was more than a little chilling. I never had any issues with the backstory of how the universe got the way it is at the start of this trilogy; I never had any trouble believing that AIs could absolutely end up worshipped as gods, and all of the worldbuilding has always fit beautifully together. But that doesn’t mean I didn’t enjoy the hell out of getting more worldbuilding; tracing Nemesis’ rise was, honestly, horrifyingly hypnotic, the kind of thing you can’t tear your eyes away from.
Gods – hah – it was all just way too easy to believe in.
And, like its predecessors, The Infinite is wonderfully easy to read; Hoffman’s prose is somehow welcoming, something your brain can relax and let go into – without the writing ever devolving into the too-simplistic style I can’t stand. I can’t in good conscience call Infinite cosy – but it’s the kind of book where you don’t notice turning the pages, where it’s a surprise when you reach the end of a chapter because haven’t you only been reading for a minute or two???
No, no you have not: you’ve been reading for half an hour, and you never noticed because, despite all the deep dark themes at play in this book, it doesn’t feel heavy. It flows like cool, bright water beneath your eyes, drawing you along.
You only have to relax into the current.
The sun joins the mountains
And our hands join, too.
If this is the last night,
I spent it with you.
For most of my time reading it, The Infinite felt like a solid 3.5-4 star book. But once all the pieces fell into place–
Folx, I have no idea how to say it. But that ending? The one that’s been building since we first encountered The Outside in 2019?
Oh – and I say this fully aware of the hilarious irony – my gods!!!
That made the hairs on my arms stand up. That made me choke up. That made me glow golden in my chest, filled me with this huge incredible, indescribable feeling that lasted and lasted. Even now, weeks after reading it, I get goosebumps – the good kind – thinking about it.
Hoffman doesn’t deliver on all her promises – she goes light-years BEYOND them, gives us so much more than I ever expected, more than my wildest dreams for this series; tying together every heart-pounding theme that’s been woven through these books with even more fantastic gloriousness. Maybe a good chunk of The Infinite is sort of practical-feeling, but the finale itself is everything.
EVERYTHING. The kind of epic you feel reverberating through your bones; that makes you want to sing and scream because you just can’t CONTAIN it all!
I CAN’T OKAY? I CANNOT CONTAIN IT ALL.
SO YOU SHOULD READ IT TOO. SO YOU CAN HELP. WITH THE CONTAINING. YES?
The Infinite is out on the 24th – next week! – and you absolutely cannot let yourself miss this incredible conclusion to this mind-breakingly epic trilogy!