Last year, Rick Yancey introduced us to a different sort of alien invasion story with The 5th Wave. I found it notable because (although it’s targeted at young adults and includes the inevitable romance story) the alien invasion was different from most of the stories I’m used to. This year, the tale continues (with some new surprises) in The Infinite Sea.
If you haven’t already read The 5th Wave, then be warned that this review will contain spoilers for the first book, though I’ll try to avoid big spoilers for the new book.
First, a quick recap of the first book: aliens invaded. But they didn’t come with spaceships screaming through the sky, lasers blazing. Instead, they took care of us with EMPs, kinetic bombs, and a plague—all without ever setting foot on the surface.
But then (here’s the big spoiler for the first book) we learn that there are aliens among us, sleeper agents who grew up as humans but were activated during the invasion. The vast military complex run by General Vosch that’s going around “saving” kids and training them to kill aliens is actually doing the exact opposite: it’s using kids to wipe out the rest of humanity. But the real power of the fifth wave isn’t so much the kids with guns and aliens that look like us—it’s the way that those things separate us, make us distrust each other.
Cassie Sullivan is a teenage girl who manages to survive the first four waves, and spends the bulk of the first book trying to rescue her little brother Sammy. Along the way we meet a group of kids who were drafted into General Vosch’s army but managed to see through the lies. And, finally, there’s Evan Walker, one of these alien sleeper agents who managed to fall in love with Cassie and ends up something in between human and alien.
By the end of the book, Cassie is reunited with her brother and the group of kids breaks out of the military base—but it seems like a very small victory, with most of humanity dead and the status of General Vosch still unknown.
The Infinite Sea picks up where the first book left off. Cassie and the rest of the kids are holed up in an abandoned hotel, trying to regroup and figure out what to do next, because the war is still on. Blowing up part of a military base wasn’t enough to stop the aliens.
In the second book, we get a closer look at what’s going on with the aliens. A lot of the book is narrated by Ringer, a girl from the military group who gets recaptured and subjected to a psychological battle with Colonel Vosch, who torments her by giving her hints to piece together. It does lead to some big surprises (which I won’t reveal here).
We also get the story from several other perspectives. In the first book, a lot of the book focused on Cassie, but we also had sections that focused on Evan and some that were narrated by Ben Parish, another high schooler who had been trained as a soldier. One interesting aspect was that Evan’s chapters were told in the third person, while Cassie’s and Ben’s chapters were told in the first person. It had the effect of setting Evan apart, not letting you get all the way into his head.
In the second book, we still get Cassie’s point of view and chapters focusing on Evan, but we get a new cast of characters. Ringer narrates much of the book, including a long section in the second half that lasts about a hundred pages. We also get some small glimpses into the mind of Poundcake, another kid in the group who never speaks. In the first book, he’s a total mystery, but now we get a little bit of his origin story.
Yancey seems as interested in the philosophical and psychological effects of the alien invasion as in the physical and practical effects: a lot of the book consists of internal thoughts. But that’s not to say the physical and practical effects aren’t important. He comes up with some new, devious methods used by the aliens that are devastating.
I enjoyed the book and definitely wanted to find out what was going to happen and where things were leading. My only complaint, I think, is that the voices of the various characters aren’t always distinct, and they certainly don’t sound like high schoolers. Every so often Yancey breaks into a sort of “poetic voice” (the phrase “infinite sea” is a recurring motif) that just doesn’t seem to fit the character, not least because somebody else just went on about an infinite sea in a previous section.
If you’re willing to suspend disbelief on that count, though (hey, you’re already suspending disbelief because it’s an alien invasion tale), then it’s a fun read that will change your perspective on what was happening in the first book. I think that’s one of the best things about The Infinite Sea: that it doesn’t just move the story forward, but even opens up new possibilities in the previous book.