Review: To Sleep in a Sea of Stars - Christopher Paolini
Published: Tor, September 2020
My Rating: 5/5 stars
“I’ve seen A greater share of wonders vast and small than most have done. My peace is made, my breathing slows, I couldn’t ask for more. (…) Content to hold. And wait. And here to sleep.
To sleep in a sea of stars.”
I’m not sure what I was expecting the moment I decided to lay down 20 euros for this behemoth of a book at my local bookstore upon release. Part curiosity, part nostalgia, as The Inheritance Cycle was one that I grew up with and have so many fantastic memories of (yes, even despite all its flaws). What I wasn’t sure of was if that love could stand the test of time, let alone carry over to his newest project over 10(!) years in the making.
My friends: it did…
Both objectively, and subjectively, I feel confident that this novel deserves a spot in my top 10 of the year. Whilst I’m still floating in that lovely vacuum you sometimes experience after just finishing a novel you’ve been absorbed in for hours on end, I’ll try to explain why this is Paolini’s best work sofar.
The plot, the world, the universe:
We follow xenobiologist Kira Navarez, who has the misfortune to stumble upon an abandoned alien ruin, during a routine mission on an uncolonized planet. When Kira finds herself infected with an alien parasite, the story soon fractals out into a galaxy-wide war, and the worst threat humanity has ever faced. Although Kira would do nothing rather than return home to her family, she and her parasitical passenger seem to be the only chance to prevent mutual annihilation.
Christopher Paolini does a phenomenal job of expanding his created universe through Kiras eyes. The single POV makes it accessible enough to comfortably navigate your way through his extended worldbuilding. The fact that this novel has a huge (optional) appendix to give background to the sciences of its world says enough about how well thought out everything is.
The characters: humans and not-so-humans:
Even more well thought out, and even more important to me as a reader are the characters. I soon came to love Kira, as much as her stubborn character annoyed me at times, but most of all I loved the crew of the Wallfish, Itari and even Gregorovich. After spending all the time it took to finish these 900 pages with them, I truly felt like we’d taken a space-journey together, and I felt a pang in my heart when I had to say goodbye.
In the end, it is their story: As with most sci-fi when you strip away the AI, the aliens and the space war, you’re left with a very human and relatable story. One about isolation and connection, despair and purpose, mortality and acceptance, and the way none of those pairings are antonyms, even though they may feel like that often times.
I was personally happy to have these characters to keep me company through the holidays this year. During Christmas that I spent alone due to the pandemic this year, their “presence” and the journey they took me on was a welcome one.
I also had a fun little Easter egg hunt for all the hidden references to sci-fi classics (the Alien series and works by Neal Asher, Adrian Tchaikovsky and of course Ursula Le Guin, just to name a few). Don’t worry: none of these are obvious pop-culture references, and you can easily miss them, or look past them.
The flawed but epic behemoth
Yes, this book has clear flaws, like any other work of art. It drags a bit in parts, it asks you to suspend your disbelieve quite a bit and (view spoiler). Yet focussing on those minor points is like focussing on a metaphorical “wallfish” in a universe of good.
If you enjoy the works by Adrian Tchaikovsky, Becky Chambers, the movie Prometheus or even Paolini’s previous works: please do yourself a favour and give this one a try. Meanwhile I’ll be here, showering this book in my own personal sea of Goodreads-stars…
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