Book Review: The Infinite Sea by Rick Yancey

infinite seaThis is the second book in a series, so here come the warnings:

SPOILER ALERT: This is the follow-up book to The 5th Wave. Events from The 5 Wave will be discussed! So, need I say it? If you haven’t read The 5th Wave, now would be a good time to look away. (Better yet, go get a copy of The 5th Wave! It’s good.)

KINDA SPOILER-ISH ALERT: There are some elements from The Infinite Sea that I’ll have to talk about in order to write any sort of review. I’ll try not to go into a tremendous amount of detail, but if you prefer to know nothing about what happens, well, here’s another good time to look away.

And that concludes the housekeeping portion of this post. Moving on…

In The 5th Wave, the subject matter is nothing less than the destruction of the human race at the hands of alien invaders. Over the course of an apocalyptic few months, 98% of Earth’s population has been killed in all sort of horrifying ways. The story focuses on a handful of survivors, each on their own, trying not only to stay alive themselves, but to save or sustain the people they love.

The Infinite Sea picks up pretty much right after the big, blow-out ending of The 5th Wave. Our little band of survivors is hunkered down in an old, abandoned motel, waiting for whatever comes next, listening to the rats in the walls. (The rats are important — more on this later.)

What else? Well, that’s mostly it.

In The 5th Wave, our main three point of view characters are Cassie, Ben, and Evan. Each has his or her own intense story to tell, with a unique viewpoint on the events unfolding. In The Infinite Sea, the perspective expands to include chapters narrated by several other characters. Does this help broaden the view of life after the invasion? Not really.

It’s not that I wasn’t interested in what happened in The Infinite Sea. I was. But at the same time, the story somehow feels narrow, almost claustrophobic.

Part of what really impressed me in The 5th Wave was the epic scale. As seen through the eyes of our POV characters, the destruction is devastatingly huge, yet also intimate in that the impact of the invasion is highly personal. Family members die cruel, bloody deaths. Trusted adults betray in horrible, mind-breaking, soul-damaging ways. Safe havens turn out to be hell on earth. Humans yearn for companionship, but safety lies only in isolation. The loss each character experiences, especially Cassie, is enormous not just for the character, but because of what it means for the entirety of human life.

Compared to all that, The Infinite Sea feels small. In a most literal sense, it is: Going by my physical copies of both books,  The Infinite Sea is about 150 pages shorter than The 5th Wave. The invasion is still underway, but not much has changed. We spend all of this second book holed up with our group of characters, waiting for the next awful thing to happen. The relationships barely move forward, and they have very little to do other than hide and speculate – and talk and talk and talk.

The endless talk is yet another piece that works less well for me in The Infinite Sea. In The 5th Wave, the language is often highly dramatic, much more figurative than you might expect out of the mouths of teens dealing with disaster, but somehow it matches the grand tone of the entire book. Sadly, in The Infinite Sea, the language tends toward an overuse of imagery and metaphor, and rather than feeling epic, it ends up sounding like borderline mumbo-jumbo.

I understood. In the safe room, a billion upraised faces populating the infinite, and the eyes that sough mine, and the question in those eyes too horrible to put into words, Will I live? It’s all connected. The Others understood that, understood it better than most of us. No hope without faith, no faith without hope, no love without trust, no trust, without love. Remove one and the entire human house of cards collapses.

It’s all about a search for meaning in disaster, but the discussions go in circle upon circle: There are rats in the walls. Are we the rats? Is the Earth the inhabited house the aliens want to move into? Why not kill all the rats? Why leave some rats alive? There’s the rock problem: Why not just use a big rock (i.e., a meteor) to wipe out all life? Why embed aliens inside the humans? Why play all the mind games? Why, why, why… this books amounts to a never-ending litany of characters discussing “why” — but unfortunately, we end with little more understanding than we had at the beginning of the book.

Another problem: In what felt like a baffling shift to me, the entire second half of the book is focused on Ringer, a character in a supporting role in The 5th Wave. We barely know her; we never saw her point of view in the first book. An awful lot of space is devoted to Ringer’s experience, trapped and cut off from the other characters, and it’s a weird shift in emphasis. Cassie was established in The 5th Wave as our primary character, yet she and the rest of her entourage are absent for almost half of this book. Ringer’s story adds some knowledge to the mix, but it’s kind of jarring to have the book split like this, with two stories that don’t fit together.

The Infinite Sea is clearly the bridge book in this trilogy. We need to get from the introduction of the disaster in The 5th Wave to the final resolution in the 3rd, yet-to-be-published book, but other than as a connection from point A to point B, The Infinite Sea adds very little to the world-building or the story arc of the series. By the end of this second book, I would have expected to understand much more about the reasons for the invasion and the strategies employed by the invaders. Instead, the only real progress is that the characters are beginning to understand that there’s a lot that they don’t know, that there has to be more to what to the invaders want, and that there are major pieces of the strategy that remain to be figured out.

The more I write about The Infinite Sea, the more I realize how unsatisfying I found it. With very little story progression or character growth and very little in the way of unraveling the mysteries of the alien plan, it’s very difficult to point out much that’s gained by reading The Infinite Sea, other than a reshuffling of the chessboard and a set-up for a finale. Perhaps this series should have been two power-house books instead of a trilogy with a tepid middle. I’m hoping that the final book, supposedly to be released in September, will blow the story out of the water.

The 5th Wave was amazing. I suppose if you want to find out what happens next, you have to read The Infinite Sea. But unless something is revealed early on in book #3 that demonstrates how the events of #2 matter, I’d say that The Infinite Sea is a mostly unimportant interlude that comes nowhere near to matching the power and scale of The 5th Wave. Proceed with caution — or perhaps wait until the release of the 3rd book and read it as an introduction to #3. Read on its own, as the eagerly anticipated sequel to a fantastic first book, The Infinite Sea disappoints.

_________________________________________

The details:

Title: The Infinite Sea
Author: Rick Yancey
Publisher: Putnam Juvenile
Publication date: September 14, 2014
Length: 320 pages
Genre: Young adult/science fiction
Source: Purchased

Thursday Quotables: The 5th Wave

cooltext1045178755Welcome back to Thursday Quotables! This weekly feature is the place to highlight a great quote, line, or passage discovered during your reading each week.  Whether it’s something funny, startling, gut-wrenching, or just really beautifully written, Thursday Quotables is where my favorite lines of the week will be, and you’re invited to join in!

If you’d like to participate, it’s really simple:

  • Follow Bookshelf Fantasies, if you please!
  • Write a Thursday Quotables post on your blog. Try to pick something from whatever you’re reading now.
  • Link up via the linky below (look for the cute froggy face).
  • Make sure to include a link back to Bookshelf Fantasies in your post (http://www.bookshelffantasies.com).
  • Have fun!

This week’s Thursday Quotable:

Aliens are stupid.

I’m not talking about real aliens. The Others aren’t stupid. The Others are so far ahead of us, it’s like comparing the dumbest human to the smartest dog. No contest.

No, I’m talking about the aliens inside our own heads.

The ones we made up, the ones we’ve been making up since we realized those glittering lights in the sky were suns like ours and probably had planets like ours spinning around them. You know, the aliens we imagine, the kind of aliens we’d like to attack us, human aliens. You’ve seen them a million times. They swoop down from the sky in their flying saucers to level New York and Tokyo and London, or they march across the countryside in huge machines that look like mechanical spiders, ray guns blasting away, and always, always, humanity sets aside its differences and bands together to defeat the alien horde. David slays Goliath, and everybody (except Goliath) goes home happy.

What crap.

Source:  The 5th Wave
Author: Rick Yancey
Putnam Juvenile, 2013

What lines made you laugh, cry, or gasp this week? Do tell!

Link up, or share your quote of the week in the comments.

Wishlist Wednesday

Welcome to Wishlist Wednesday!

The concept is to post about one book from our wish lists that we can’t wait to read. Want to play? Here’s how:

  • Follow Pen to Paper as host of the meme.
  • Do a post about one book from your wishlist and why you want to read it.
  • Add your blog to the linky at the bottom of the post at Pen to Paper.
  • Put a link back to Pen to Paper somewhere in your post.
  • Visit the other blogs and enjoy!

My Wishlist Wednesday book is:

  The Monstrumologist (The Monstrumologist, #1)

The Monstrumologist by Rick Yancey

From Goodreads:

These are the secrets I have kept. This is the trust I never betrayed. But he is dead now and has been for more than forty years, the one who gave me his trust, the one for whom I kept these secrets. The one who saved me . . . and the one who cursed me.

So starts the diary of Will Henry, orphaned assistant to Dr. Pellinore Warthorpe, a man with a most unusual specialty: monstrumology, the study of monsters. In his time with the doctor, Will has met many a mysterious late-night visitor, and seen things he never imagined were real. But when a grave robber comes calling in the middle of the night with a gruesome find, he brings with him their most deadly case yet.

A gothic tour de force that explores the darkest heart of man and monster and asks the question: When does man become the very thing he hunts?

Why do I want to read this?

I just finished reading The 5th Wave by Rick Yancey a few days ago, and I’m still catching my breath! This suspenseful book about an alien invasion is one of my favorites so far in 2013, and I loved it so much that I want to read more by this author.

I actually picked up a copy of The Monstrumologist last year, when I was trying to catch up on some of the Printz award winners and honor books.* I’ve been hesitant to start any new series, particularly ongoing series — but as it turns out, the fourth and final book in The Monstrumologist series comes out this fall, so I think it’s time to jump in!

Have you read The Monstrumologist? What did you think?

*The Michael L. Printz award list has got to be one of my favorite resources. I’ve encountered so many great books thanks to this list! If you haven’t given it a look before, check it out here.

So what are you doing on Thursdays and Fridays? Come join me for my regular weekly features, Thursday Quotables and Flashback Friday! You can find out more here — come share the book love!

Book Review: The 5th Wave by Rick Yancey

Book Review: The 5th Wave by Rick Yancey

The 5th Wave (The Fifth Wave, #1)Quick, what’s the first thing you think of when you think of alien invasions? E.T.? Independence Day? Close Encounters of the Third Kind? 16-year-old Cassie has news for you: When the aliens do arrive, don’t expect sweet and cuddly. Don’t think that a scrappy band of humans will join together to defeat the invaders, with an inspirational soundtrack thumping in the background. As the startling new young adult novel The 5th Wave makes clear, when the aliens do get here, humans won’t stand a chance.

In The 5th Wave, the end of life as we know it is pretty much a foregone conclusion once the mothership shows up. Forget alien fighter drones swooping screaming through our skies. They don’t need all the flash and boom. This invasion is definitely managed hands-off, and it works.

In the first wave, an electro-magnetic pulse takes out all technology — lights, cars, batteries, phones — in one fell swoop. As disabled planes fall from the sky and stalled vehicles crash violently on the highways, humans start waking up to the fact that their world isn’t really theirs any more. In the second wave, strategic detonations along coastal fault lines cause global tsunamis. Goodbye, sea coasts. Goodbye, 50% of Earth’s human population. The third wave is an airborne toxic event, a deadly strain of the Ebola virus transmitted by birds, wiping out 97% of the humans who’d survived waves 1 and 2. And still, the aliens aren’t done. And still, there have been no landing parties, no Terminators, no robot invaders. The cleverness of this invasion, as envisioned by masterful storyteller Rick Yancey, is that the aliens manage to wipe us all out with what’s already here, no intergalactic technology of death needed. It’s like an alien invasion, DIY-style! Kill off the humans using their own infrastructure, natural resources, and diseases. Very efficient.

I don’t want to diminish the impact of the suspense and revelations, the intense sense of doom and dismay that build throughout this book, and so I won’t go into detail about the 4th and 5th waves, which are insidious, unimaginable, and seemingly impossible to survive. Suffice it to say that you’ll be twisting your brain around quite a bit as you figure it all out.

Meanwhile, what about the people in this book?

Main character Cassie is a typical Middle America high school girl before the invasion begins. She has friends, a loving family, and an unrequited crush on the school football star, who really does not know she exists. As her world is turned upside down and she loses everything, she makes one promise: to protect her 5-year-old brother Sammy, no matter what. But when Cassie sees even Sammy taken away from her, she has to decide whether she can keep going. In a world in which she may be the last survivor, is there really any point to continuing the fight? When it’s safer to be alone than to band together with other survivors, is it any wonder that the humans don’t stand a chance?

Much of the book is narrated by Cassie, but not all. We also get powerful sections focusing on Ben — Cassie’s crush — whose experience post-invasion takes a dramatically different turn after he’s brought into a camp of survivors and trained by the military there to become a killing machine, to fight back, to never give in. But is there something more to the command structure than meets the eye? And how can Ben be sure who the enemy is?

We also meet Evan, a farm boy with chocolate brown eyes, who rescues an injured Cassie, nurses her back to health, and seems to be perfect in every way. All he wants to do is protect and provide for Cassie… and she is just not used to trusting anyone at this point. Is Evan for real, or too good to be true? Yes, she’s lost her ability to trust since the invasion began, but is she really being unreasonable here? As Cassie puts it:

That’s my big problem. That’s it! Before the Arrival, guys like Evan Walker never looked twice at me, much less shot wild game for me and washed my hair. They never grabbed me by the back of the neck like the airbrushed model on his mother’s paperback, abs a-clenching, pecs a-popping. My eyes have never been looked deeply into, or my chin raised to bring my lips within an inch of theirs. I was the girl in the background, the just-friend, or — worse — the friend of a just-friend, the you-sit-next-to-her-in-geometry-but-can’t-remember-her-name girl.

Can Cassie believe that this seemingly-perfect boy really cares for her, or is he playing her in some way? And if he is, what’s Evan’s true agenda?

The 5th Wave strikes just the right balance between human drama and life-and-death action sequences. The tension builds, scene by scene, and the sense of inescapable doom grows and deepens as the book progresses. There are twists and turns galore. At so many points, I thought I had something figured out, only to have all my theories and guesses completely thrown out the window by whatever happened next. The characters are introduced in quick but effective strokes; we may not have known them for long, but we do feel that we know them.

While The 5th Wave feels like a pulse-pounding action ride at times, it also captures the feel of a broken world, post-invasion. Earth itself feels like an alien environment after the first three waves have wreaked their destruction:

The creepiest thing, creepier than the abandoned cars and the snarl of crumpled metal and the broken glass sparkling in the October sunlight, creepier than all the trash and discarded crap littering the median, most of it hidden by the knee-high grass so the strip of land looks lumpy, covered in boils, the creepiest thing is the silence.

The Hum is gone.

You remember the Hum.

Unless you grew up on top of a mountain or lived in a cave your whole life, the Hum was always around you. That’s what life was. It was the sea we swam in. The constant sound of all the things we built to make life easy and a little less boring. The mechanical song. The electronic symphony. The Hum of all our things and all of us. Gone.

I can’t say enough good things about The 5th Wave. I could easily seeing this series (yes, this is the first in a series) becoming as big as The Hunger Games. The 5th Wave is a young adult novel, but it doesn’t talk down or avoid the all-too-real tragedies of a world gone deadly. There’s loss, horrific destruction, death of loved ones, cruelty, and despair. But there’s also tenacity, loyalty, love, and determination. The handful of main characters are not cookie-cutter archetypes; instead, we see flawed, identifiable young people, each struggling with choices, each lacking key pieces of information, but having to do the best they can with what they know and what they can figure out. Cassie, Ben, Evan and others are dealing with life and death decisions in a vacuum, with shades of gray and no clear right or wrong. We come to care about these characters deeply, and even when we don’t quite know what’s going on or who to believe, it’s a testament to the strength of the writing in The 5th Wave that we want so badly for them all to be okay.

The 5th Wave is scary, suspenseful, and intense, impossible to put down, and — once finished — really hard to stop thinking about. I broke my “no new series” rule for this book, and I’m not sorry! I just wish we didn’t have to wait (probably until 2014) for the next book. Check this one out — but be prepared to stay up way past bedtime. Once you start, you won’t want to stop.