There are so many ways I could start this review. Most are questions. Can you believe Paolini, the brilliant teen who wrote and marketed Eragon until agents picked it up, is now in his 40s? And writing adult sci-fi? Unrelated, but: is this year zooming by for you as well? It’s the mark of getting older, or so I thought as a child when no year passed by quickly enough and I counted the days leading to birthdays and Christmas like a devotee might count beads.
The book, Paolini’s 2020 release To Sleep in a Sea of Stars, is why I’m here. I’ve finally finished it! All 826 pages of it (not counting the Addendum). Most I read on the flights to and from Phoenix from Orlando. Thank goodness for flying, where the only things you CAN do are sit, twiddle your thumbs, watch TV over the plane’s spotty Wi-Fi, or read. 99% of the time, I choose to read.
And this book was… a lot. Some really good parts. Overall, I enjoyed the story. If there’s one thing Paolini can do well, it’s spin a story worth reading. This one is told from a woman’s POV, Kira. Considering the forests of sci-fi that insert at best unflattering women characters, this was a bold move on Paolini’s part. Did he choose the main character as female simply to subvert the genre (in a good way)?
Now, some might be tempted to complain that this is just more “woke-ism”–that Paolini may have been subscribing to a political or social agenda. My take? I don’t care. He wrote Kira well. At no time did I cringe inwardly at any of Kira’s actions as they relate to womanhood. So bravo, Paolini. I enjoy reading a diverse character cast.
To continue his diverse cast, two of the women on the ship Kira finds herself on, the Wallfish, are in a relationship. Of course, as a queer woman, I take no issue. It’s a sad world, though, where I read something like that written by a cis white guy and subconsciously question whether he was just checking boxes.
** Mild Spoilers Ahead **
But let’s move past the checkboxes and examine the story and writing, shall we?
I enjoyed the story. In brief summary, Kira Navarez discovers a biological-nanobot composite that melds to her body (got some The Singularity Trap vibes here). Her discovery triggers the appearance of two alien races (one which isn’t around anymore but has left some fascinating architecture and machines) and the creation of another.
Oh boy. If we just stop to consider the statistics for a… nope. Don’t do it.
And thus she forges ahead on a mission to set all things right in the universe, a quest that continues through the end of the book. Certainly, Paolini intends to publish another in this series.
Everything you’d want in a strict sci-fi novel comes into play here: politics, aliens, blasters, scientific explanation, aliens, space opera, a family-like crew, space pigs… did I mention aliens? For the most part, I was gripped, and lost myself in the story.
For the most part.
I did have a few minor nitpicks.
First (and the biggest for me) was the sex. Not that there was too much. No, no worries there. For those who aren’t looking for a steamy sci-fi, this book is good for you. Both are fade to black, which I appreciated, considering that the second’s foreplay made me cringe astronomically (so lame, I know). So much touching and tasting and groping, but no sensation. No familiarity. I wasn’t moved in anyway, and thus didn’t want to be there.
Long story short, if you don’t care if two people are having sex or (god forbid) don’t want them to, you really don’t want to watch. I’m not sure how he can make this better if he tries a romantic scene down the line. Maybe focus more on the emotions?
Paolini used onomatopoeia a lot in his Eragon books as well. I happily read through the first three without noticing them, but come Inheritance and I DNF’d because every bang clang crash made me cringe.
He’s at it again.
I accept onomatopoeia in manga and middle grade fiction. Even early YA. But now? It draws me out of every fight scene. Of which there were quite a few. Bringing us to…
I love a good fight. I love a good strategy. I love a good sacrifice. Outsmarting the enemy. All those lovely things. Paolini’s technique in writing fights scenes I take no issue with (accept, of course, the onomatopoeia).
But, especially at the end of the book, these scenes dragged. So much of them was just Kira questioning questioning questioning herself. I grew tired of her and the fight itself. Of course, readers must know how the main character is feeling during a fight. But there must always be a balance between action and thought.
Repetition isn’t an author’s friend in this case. If she was incredibly frightened before, one thing happens, and she’s still incredibly frightened, do I really need to read another three paragraphs detailing this lack of change?
Oh, this is the hardest to write and admit but… I hated the ending! Talk about a deus ex machina… Kira basically becomes God. Yep, big G. And I no longer liked her. Or any of it. Ugh… I have little desire to read the second book.
I mean, sure, she still has some concerns to deal with. But those concerns, those untied threads at the end, felt thrown in to allow Paolini to write another book. But to humans and aliens alike, Kira is God.
At the end of the series, I could accept that outcome. Now, after the first book? Barely. Probably not.
Based on that last nitpick, which was a bit more than a nitpick, I can’t rate this book highly. I give To Sleep in a Sea of Stars a 3/5. Which means I probably won’t stick through another 800+ page book in this series.
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This review was first on http://www.syndalthewriter.com