Review: To Sleep in a Sea of Stars – Christopher Paolini

Review: To Sleep in a Sea of Stars – Christopher PaoliniTo Sleep in a Sea of Stars
by Christopher Paolini
Publisher: Macmillan Audio
Publication Date: September 15, 2020
Genres: Science Fiction
Pages: 880
Source: NetGalley

I received this book for free from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.

My rating: One StarOne StarOne StarOne Star

A brand new space opera on an epic scale from the New York Times bestselling author of a beloved YA fantasy series.

It was supposed to be a routine research mission on an uncolonized planet. But when xenobiologist Kira Navárez finds an alien relic beneath the surface of the world, the outcome transforms her forever and will alter the course of human history.

Her journey to discover the truth about the alien civilization will thrust her into the wonders and nightmares of first contact, epic space battles for the fate of humankind, and the farthest reaches of the galaxy.

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Content warnings: View Spoiler »

Look, I’ll be honest – I preordered the ebook of this as soon as it was available. But when I saw that Jennifer Hale (fem Shep from Mass Effect) was doing the audiobook, I couldn’t resist. This is a behemoth of a book – almost 33 hours (880 pages) – with a large cast of characters. Ms. Hale did an amazing job differentiating each of them, from accent to tone to speaking style. My personal favorite – and I’m sure, a lot of people’s favorite – was the shipmind Gregorovitch. Honestly, I can’t believe this is Jennifer Hale’s first audiobook, and I’ll definitely be looking for her work in the future.

Suffice it to say that a lot goes on in this book. The first part – Kira discovering evidence of alien life just as she’s about to leave the planet she’s been surveying – is just the beginning of her journey, and it’s slowly paced. Once that happens, though, the book turns into a rollercoaster of action. There’s a good balance between the action scenes and the worldbuilding exposition. This is very hard scifi, science-y as all get out but not quite as accessible as, say, The Martian. The worldbuilding is intricate and enthralling. From the different alien species to the various human colonies to the nitty gritty details of space combat, everything is described in exquisite detail.

“Because that’s what we do. We fall down, and then we help each other back up again.”

What stopped this book from being a 5-star read for me is that it’s very much plot-driven. The characters, even Kira, almost felt like an afterthought at times, and there were several times where I felt like they – especially Kira – acted out of character given what they’d experienced. It’s also glaringly obvious that it’s a male author writing a female character – some of the more supposedly romantic sections made me laugh out loud. Luckily – and I cannot honestly believe I’m typing these words – the romance isn’t a big focus of the book. I’m a sucker for found families, so I loved the crew of the Wallfish,  especially Sparrow and Hua Chung, and of course, Gregorovich. We get to learn a bit about each character, even Runcible, the ship pig, but it all still felt a bit shallow. The only character I felt like we really got a good feel on was Gregorivich, and that’s mostly that he’s crazy as a loon.

“This I learned, meatbag, this and nothing more: when air, food, and shelter are assured, only two things matter. Work and companionship. To be alone and without purpose is to be the living dead.”

There’s a lot of themes explored in the story, almost to the point of being a bit too much. The one that stuck with me, though, was Kira’s continual fight for agency for herself. Near the beginning of the book, a character tells Kira to “eat the path” – basically, she means, that only through owning and accepting her actions can she overcome her circumstances. Kira spends a lot of time and energy initially fighting against the xeno, worrying about remaining a separate person from it, worrying about whether she’s still really Kira. Her journey towards accepting the xeno – and everything that means – and her strength while she did it was my favorite part of the book.
“I am the spark in the center of the void. I am the widdershin scream that cleaves the night. I am your eschatological nightmare. I am the one and the word and the fullness of the light. Would you like to play a game? Y/N – Gregorovich
No – Kira
? – Gregorovich”

Overall, this is a chonker of a book and totally worth it. Recommended to anyone interested in plot-driven first contact stories that span galaxies and question what it means to be human.

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