The Infinity Courts has an intriguing premise but sadly underdeveloped characters

The Infinity Courts by Akemi Dawn Bowman. Image courtesy Simon & Schuster Publishing
The Infinity Courts by Akemi Dawn Bowman. Image courtesy Simon & Schuster Publishing /

Humanity has always been both fascinated by and fearful of death. What happens to us after we die? What comes next? If there is a world beyond life, what might it look like? Where do souls go Akemi Dawn Boman’s The Infinity Courts plots out a complex answer to these questions, all topped off with a meditation on what precisely it means to be human in the first place.

The story follows Nami, an eighteen-year-old girl with her whole life in front of her. She’s just graduated, she’s ready to tell her best friend Finn that she’s hoping they’ll become more than friends, and then figure out what their life together can become. Unfortunately, those dreams are dashed when Nami’s life is cut short by tragedy. And when she awakens, she finds herself in Infinity, the place where humans go when they die.

Only, it’s been taken over by Ophelia, the AI that humanity invented to serve as their electronic personal assistant. (Think Siri, but way more malevolent.) She’s crafted a complex system of additional AIs, known as Residents, who rule over four distinct Courts – Victory, Famine, War, and Death – where human consciousnesses are subject to all sort of torture and torment, including being forced to serve the Residents as mindless slaves.

It’s all heavy subject matter, but Bowman’s vision – not just of the afterlife, but a future that creates artificial intelligence so realistic that it understands the concept of same – is rich and thorough, so much so that I’d actually have loved more backstory about Ophelia and the eponymous courts, how they came to exist, and why the systems in them are set up the way they are.

The world of Infinity is surprisingly rich and detailed, with intriguing fantasy concepts and creatures that I would have also loved to see more fully explored. (The idea of Nightlings and Daylings, for example, which creatures formed, from fear and dreams respectively that behave accordingly.) The themes of the various courts are never fully explained, nor how Ophelia came up with the strange system of balance between them. (Why do both War and Famine need to exist? And what’s up with the bizarre Labyrinth that appears to cycle through even more worlds?)

Instead, much of The Infinity Courts is focused on the Colony, the group of free humans Nami discovers when she manages to avoid being taken prisoner by the Residents. They’ve got a plan to take Infinity back for humankind, but Nami’s resistant – one, she remembers how much she trusted the Ophelia that lived in her smartwatch when she was alive; and two, she struggles to believe that any creature could be completely irredeemable, even the power-hungry Residents.

Because Bowman seems determined to keep readers wondering what side to align with – are Nami’s dreams of peaceful coexistence with Residents admirable or naive? Can she truly trust her new Colony friends or are they simply using her for their own ends? Is Ophelia really the monster everyone claims – we never feel as though we truly get to know these characters as individuals within the story in their own right. They largely feel simple and two-dimensional and the brief flashes of complexity -i.e. the rebel leader who fights so that the lover who sacrificed herself to get her to safety won’t have died in vain – it’s almost immediately stymied by another quotidian lecture about the necessity of killing all the Residents as soon as possible.

And as understandable as Nami’s pacifist tendencies are, at some point her constant worries about whether she’ll be able to purposefully bring harm to another, just start to sound like whining. There’s so little nuance to anyone’s position that it detracts from the larger overall points about humanity and consciousness that the story’s trying to make.

The Infinity Courts is, technically part of a series – but its ending feels as though it could probably go either way. (Though I think I might like the pleasant, jarring shock of the story just stopping where it does rather than a sequel.) But I think we deserve to see a second installment, if only because there’s so much left unexplained about Infinity’s purpose and Ophelia’s larger role in the story. But here’s hoping that said sequel will actually allow us to get to know these characters for real, instead of keeping them all at arm’s length in order to leave reader’s guessing about their true goals and motivations.

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The Infinity Courts is available now. Let us know if you’re planning to check it out!