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 . . .”
Where on earth do I begin with this one … Well, I don’t. It begins on a far-off planet in a system not yet settled. But that’s beside the point. To try to condense this marvel into a short review is spectacularly difficult. Even having written this out in draft form, I don’t feel like I can properly put into words everything I like about this book—but that is the good thing about a book review, just saying this is enough to set people onto their next read. I hope. The words that spring to mind most immediately for this book: epic, immersive, grand, page-turner, wow. Lots of WOW. However, that doesn’t quite cut it, so I will try to delve deeper into what I liked about this one. What Paolini has done here is take the sci-fi genre, turn it on its head, add a pinch of originality here and a bit of fantasy there, then seat it in believable, fully-fleshed out science. This is a master at work.
The plot chases you through the black of space with nuclear missiles and laser fire that only relents with the turn of the page as you follow Kira and the lovable crew of the Wallfish. There’s great space-fights, on-world skirmishes, spikey-alien-suit attacks, and nuclear mushroom clouds. Action-packed is a difficult feat to pull-off over 800+ pages, but it gets done—and then some. This is paralleled with those intricate, character building moments, the little snippets that of ship-mind philosophy and staggered, strange xeno dreams. It’s a fractal mesh of hitting you in the feels and wowing you so much that even when you put the book down, it’s all you can think about. For me, anyway, it has taken up my entire life for a couple of weeks. In a good way.
Falconi and the Wallfish crew—the characters—are where this book is at its strongest; each one nuanced in histories, affected by the different environments they were brought up in (literally) and cast in the troubles that surrounded that upbringing and brought them together. Every one a character in their own right, not some side character you get to know little about. The crew is an eclectic mix of outcasts and experts who sit in your mind as real people.
The aliens in this one were my favourite part. Sometimes, it can feel like they are just slapped in there because, you know, it’s sci-fi—but not in this book. They’ve a history, culture and place in the story that sometimes feels like it fits more than the humans. And this is all experienced through Kira’s POV. Paolini is an expert at showing a vast world through just one pair of eyes. It did not feel limited in that way at all. The Vanished and well, the fact that they aren’t around anymore, provide tons of intrigue with their leftover tech, abandoned cities and legacy that still pulls the present into their past. Then you have the Wraunai, or the Graspers, a civilisation of sea-creature-like aliens (mostly octopus-like) who have back-engineered the Vanished’s technology so they can swim through the stars. And the Nightmares, whose history is far more sinister. Both with technology beyond human capability.
Overall, To Sleep in a Sea of Stars is a fantastic, goliath of a book. There’s truly no stone left unturned with the world-building, down to the very science that FTL sits in. It is a world that stands up on its own and I am PRAYING that there is more, that there will be a sequel. I could not rate this book higher and it has been an absolute joy to read. The only thing that let it down slightly was just how long the action went on for at the end, but that casts no shadow of doubt on the fact that this book gets top marks. I could not thank Tor UK enough for sending me a copy.