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Reviews: THE INFINITY COURTS & HELLO, CRUEL HEART

 

Hey everyone!  I’m back today with a couple of new reviews to share on some upcoming YA releases.  I was very excited to read the first book as it’s a sci-fi/fantasy novel written by Akemi Dawn Bowman.  I’ve read several of her YA contemporary novels so it was fun to read something so different from her.  I was equally excited to read the second book because Cruella is one of my favorite Disney villains.  It was fun to imagine a backstory for her.

Reviews:  THE INFINITY COURTS & HELLO, CRUEL HEARTThe Infinity Courts (The Infinity Courts, #1) Goodreads

Author: Akemi Dawn Bowman

Publication Date: April 6, 2021

Publisher:  Simon and Schuster Books for Young Readers

FTC Disclosure: I received a complimentary copy of this book from Netgalley.  All opinions are my own.

The Infinity Courts by Akemi Dawn Bowman quite literally starts off with a bang when the main character, 18 year old Nami Miyamoto, is shot and killed on her way to her high school graduation party.  I was hooked right away because of course I’m trying to figure out where the story is going if the main character is dead within the first few pages.  Well, it turns out we’re following her to the afterlife, specifically to a place called Infinity.  Infinity is where a human’s subconscious goes after his or her physical body is no longer living.  Once she realizes where she is, Nami is shocked to learn that the afterlife has been taken over by Ophelia, the popular virtual assistant humans use to do their bidding.  Ophelia has crowned herself Queen of Infinity and she seeks revenge against the humans by forcing them all into servitude as they die. Revenge isn’t Ophelia’s endgame either though.  Nami flees before she falls into Ophelia’s clutches, meets up with a small band of human rebels, and joins them in their fight to preserve the afterlife for their loved ones who have yet to die.

First of all, I have to give props to Bowman for coming up with such a unique premise for a story.  She definitely had me giving the side-eye to both Alexa and Siri as I was reading this, haha. I was also fascinated by the creative worldbuilding with respect to Infinity and the various courts it contains.  There’s Victory court, which is beautiful and vivid and known for its many parties, at which humans work as servants.  There’s also War, a grim and brutal court where uncooperative humans are sent to battle for their souls. And finally, there’s Death, the mysterious court that appears to be where Ophelia conducts experiments related to her endgame, which is to exterminate all human consciousness so that she can have Infinity all to herself.

Aside from the creative worldbuilding, I was also a fan of the complex characters Bowman has created.  Nami and her band of rebels are of course very easy to root for as they are the underdogs trying to take down an AI tyrant who doesn’t seem to have a weakness of any kind.  Nami was all the more interesting though because she has moments where she’s torn about what they’re trying to do.  She of course wants to preserve the afterlife for her family for when they die, but at the same time, to a degree, she understands why Ophelia hates humans and wants to get back at them.  Nami wonders if there’s any way for Ophelia and the humans to reach a compromise and ignores the other rebels when they tell her they’ve already tried.  Nami’s internal struggle creates tension and mistrust within the group because they’re never 100% sure if they can trust her.  Ophelia is also an incredibly complex character. She is not your typical AI by any stretch of the imagination, especially as it relates to her desire for revenge.

The unique premise, creative worldbuilding and the complex characters kept me entertained from start to finish.  I also really loved the exploration of humanity and what it really means to be a human.  The only weakness for me was the ending, which just fell a little flat for me and seemed abrupt.  I’m definitely on board with continuing the series though. I need to see who will come out on top!  3.5 STARS

 

Reviews:  THE INFINITY COURTS & HELLO, CRUEL HEARTHello, Cruel World Goodreads

Author: Maureen Johnson

Publication Date: April 6, 2021

Publisher:  Disney Press

FTC Disclosure: I received a complimentary copy of this book from Netgalley.  All opinions are my own.

Have you ever wondered how Cruella de Vil came to be the way she is?  Was she always evil or once upon a time, was she just a normal average young girl with dreams of love, success, and happiness? Inspired by the upcoming Disney live action film, Cruella, Hello, Cruel Heart by Maureen Johnson sets out to explore that exact topic and provide a plausible origin story for this Disney villain extraordinaire.

The story is set in London in the late 60’s and follows 16-year-old Cruella, actually known as Estella here, on her quest to become a famous fashion designer.  Orphaned at a young age, Estella has been basically homeless for years, living in an old bombed-out building with two boys, Jasper and Horace, who are in similar dire straits.  They teach her how to pick pockets and shoplift, and thus the three of them muddle along, stealing enough to survive and forming a little makeshift family of their own.  Estella dreams of bigger things for herself though.  She aspires to become a famous fashion designer and often steals fabric and other items so that she can practice her craft. Sadly, much of her time is spent sewing disguises and costumes for their many heists rather than the high fashion clothing she dreams of creating.

Johnson does a wonderful job of making young Cruella/Estella very likeable and sympathetic. Who wouldn’t root for an orphan, who also happens to be a gifted fashion designer, to realize her dream? When Estella has a chance encounter with Richard and Magda, two of London’s most fashionable young people, and they invite her to join them, Estella wonders if this is the out from her old life she has been looking for, especially when they take such special interest in her designs.  She hopes this friendship is the start of something big and is invited to one party after another and is inspired to create dress after dress for these events that are the envy of everyone she meets. She’s so happy doing what she loves and making friends and even meeting boys that I found myself cheering her on that she really would have a happy ending even though I knew it was impossible.

The only area where I struggled a bit to connect with the story was that Cruella was used almost as an alter ego whenever Estella did something bad, like a ‘It wasn’t me, it was Cruella” kind of thing.  As Estella got a little older, Cruella then became a mean voice in her head telling her would never have friends or love. This Cruella alter ego didn’t turn up very often in the story, but each time she did, it just read awkwardly for me.  There was an instance, for example, where she gets into a fight with Horace and Jasper and when she goes to apologize to them later, they’re all “We know it wasn’t you, it was Cruella.” The ending of the book was also somewhat awkward for me for similar reasons.  I just couldn’t exactly tell what Cruella was supposed to be.  At first I thought maybe mental illness but, by the end, I had more questions than answers.  Hopefully the movie will bring some clarity.

Even with my Cruella issues though, I still enjoyed Hello, Cruel Heart overall. It’s a creative villain origin story that definitely made me feel sympathy for one of Disney’s most despicable villains, which is quite a feat in and of itself.  3.5 STARS