Kira Navárez is a xenobiologist working as part of a team of scientists who survey planets before they are colonised. All her life she’s dreamed of first contact with an alien race but when, on a routine survey mission, Kira makes the discovery of a lifetime, things don’t turn out at all the way she expected. Thrust into a galactic war, Kira must discover what it means to be human and decide what she’s willing to sacrifice in order to save humanity.
A departure from Christopher Paolini’s fantasy-based Inheritance Cycle series, To Sleep in a Sea of Stars is more adult in both style and content. The length alone is intimidating. At over 800 pages, it’s the size and weight of a brick and its length has both advantages and disadvantages.
The world-building is detailed and well-considered. If you’re the type that likes to deep dive into a world, then the size of this book will probably appeal to you. Paolini unravels a universe full of intricate interplanetary politics and incredible science including gene-hacking, faster-than-lightspeed travel, and terraforming. The addendum contains four appendices on the science and politics of the world which reveal a remarkable depth of research and creativity in the construction of the universe.
Of course, in a book this length, pacing can sometimes be a struggle. It can feel like there are long sections where nothing is happening and then the action is dialled up for a non-stop full throttle approach before quickly retreating to a snails pace again. There are also times when it isn’t particularly clear where the story is heading. Kira’s end goal is often obscure, which can make it difficult to feel fully engaged, particularly in the first half of the book. Having said that, Paolini throws in plenty of twists and turns to keep readers intrigued and keen to know what will happen next.
As a particularly plot-driven story, Kira’s character can sometimes feel under-developed in comparison to the side-characters who are always so distinct and well-characterised (the slightly dodgy and wonderfully eccentric crew of The Wallfish are a particular highlight). Although the story is told through Kira’s eyes, and in the beginning, readers are almost bombarded with her thoughts and emotions, as the story goes on, her voice seems drowned out in the exposition and it can feel like her emotions are an afterthought. That’s not to say she’s unlikeable. In fact, she has serious guts and shows incredible resilience in the face of life-changing and life-threatening events.
Depending on your mood and how you like your sci-fi, you may find this a bit of a slog or you may be enraptured. Certainly, it’s not the sort of book you’re going to read in one sitting, but it’s intriguing, imaginative, well-researched and inventive. It is sometimes poetic and often confusing in a way that reflects Kira’s own struggle to come to grips with what is happening to her. If you’re a fan of classic sci-fi, the likes of Frank Herbert and Isaac Asimov, then you’ll probably appreciate the depth and detail of this epic space opera, and Paolini seems to have left room for the universe to expand further.