Book Review: “To Sleep in a Sea of Stars” by Christopher Paolini

Blurb & Info

Kira Navárez dreamed of life on new worlds. Now she’s awakened a nightmare. During a routine survey mission on an uncolonized planet, Kira finds an alien relic. At first she’s delighted, but elation turns to terror when the ancient dust around her begins to move.

As war erupts among the stars, Kira is launched into a galaxy-spanning odyssey of discovery and transformation. First contact isn’t at all what she imagined, and events push her to the very limits of what it means to be human.

While Kira faces her own horrors, Earth and its colonies stand upon the brink of annihilation. Now, Kira might be humanity’s greatest and final hope…

Published: September 15, 2020

Publisher: Tor Books

Pages: 878

Series: Fractalverse #1

Content Warnings: body horror, violence, some sensuality and profanity

Review

As a kid, I really loved Eragon, which was Paolini’s first book — first published in 2001, when Paolini was 19 years old! As an adult, I fell out of love with Eragon and the Inheritance Cycle overall because I found it clichéd and predictable. I was surprised when I heard the news that Paolini was turning his attention from fantasy to science fiction, and that he had (over the course of almost a decade) written a new book, the start of a new series. I won a copy of To Sleep in a Sea of Stars in an Instagram giveaway, and it sat on my shelf for half a year (in spite of it being a pick for my 2021 A to Z Reading Challenge) before Sarah @ Suits of Stories and I selected it for one of our buddy reads.

Eragon was an homage to classic fantasy like The Lord of the Rings (J. R. R. Tolkien) and The Dragonriders of Pern (Anne McCaffrey) that, to me, felt too derivative of its source material. You could tell it was written with love, but it lacked that oomph of originality. I smiled at the Heinlein reference in this new book (I grew up reading Tunnel in the Sky and Have Space Suit — Will Travel), but overall To Sleep in a Sea of Stars feels very nostalgic without quite giving the sensation that I’m trapped in a quagmire of old tropes and plotlines I’ve read before.

But it was a near thing.

If you’re not very familiar with science fiction and all of its associated tropes and plotlines, I would say you’re going to enjoy this book. It has a lot of good qualities! It’s an action-packed adventure with a found family dynamic that is incredibly readable; the style of writing is very accessible and easy to understand, and the “science-y” bits of the science fiction won’t leave your head spinning.

I really enjoyed the world-building and creature design. The Jellies (an alien species) using a scent-based language was absolutely novel to me, and I loved all of the different human factions, especially the Entropists — they pursue knowledge above all else and are most easily summarized as “tech monks.” There is some commentary on colonialism in the book, where the planet Earth is seen as the most important planet and all planets outside our solar system live in a state of semi-tyranny under colonial governments, but it isn’t the main focus of the plot. A sapphic couple are prominent secondary characters, but the main romance features a cishet couple.

That said, if you do read a lot of sci-fi, you’re not going to find any breathtakingly original material here. “Save humanity from the aliens” isn’t exactly a new plot in this genre, and nothing about To Sleep in a Sea of Stars really knocked me off my feet and kept me guessing. It feels like a very genre-standard science fiction novel. Also, the way this book was written made it seem absolutely perfect for a film adaptation — and, apparently, I’m not the only person to think this, because the rights to the film have been optioned by Snoot Entertainment and Made Up Stories.

Kira, the main character, is hard to root for at first. She spends the first quarter of the book being buffeted from one thing to another, unable to show off any real agency. Once you get past that, she starts to blossom as a character and realize her full potential. Neither Sarah nor I were fans of her attraction and subsequent romantic relationship with one of the male characters; the chemistry felt forced and even a bit out of place, considering the potential extinction of the human race that was looming on the horizon. The ending felt very rushed. Overall, though this is a good book, it’s far from spectacular.

⭐⭐⭐ out of 5 stars

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