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Mary Doria Russell's The Sparrow was a beautifully complex human drama, which happened to be dressed in science fiction clothing. In it, a diverse cast of people set off to another star system, in hope of making humanity's first contact with another intelligent species. Though the mission was successful at first, it ultimately shattered in tragedy, leaving one survivor, a maimed, spiritually broken priest named Emilio Sandoz. Through his eyes, the story told is one of faith disappointed, and the struggle to come to terms with what the word "faith" might still mean after such trauma -- whether in humanity, in the people of other planets, or in the ultimate design of the universe.
I'm not sure if The Sparrow was a book that needed a sequel, but Russell felt that Emilio Sandoz's story wasn't finished, and contrives a way to bring him back to Rakhat, as well as a mission for him when he gets there. Thus, we get a second space expedition, with another crew of history-freighted characters. Meanwhile, on Rakhat (decades pass during transit), the native aliens find their attitudes changed by their contact with the foreigners, which sets in motion a civil war between the plant-eating "slave" species and the dominant, but less numerous predatory "master" species.
Children of God is as thoughtful a book as its predecessor, and Russell does an admirable job of expanding on the themes she established in the Sparrow, finding hope, meaning, and connections to religious ideas in events on Rakhat, while maintaining a vision of a God that’s ultimately mysterious. The plotting, however, feels more labored this time around, an obvious process of getting pieces into place with plenty of glossing over of logic. Other than Emilio Sandoz, most of the characters feel like talking biographical dossiers who don’t have all that much to do other than push the protagonist in various directions. I missed the organic friendships of the crew in the Sparrow, and found it hard to care about Danny Ironhorse and Sean Fein in the same way.
The part of the novel set on Rakhat isn’t uninteresting, though the alien characters feel more human than they did before and I had some trouble keeping their identities straight. Russell seems to be going for a parallel between the Runa and the Biblical Jews in Egypt, but with a different kind of outcome, which I thought went well with all the other religious themes in the book. I enjoyed seeing how the herd mentality of the Runa, which had previously kept them docile, could be turned into an advantage against a foe with a less collective-minded, more aristocratic society. It would have been interesting to see, in a third novel, where things on Rakhat went after the war ended, given the future issues Russell hints at, but we’ll just have to use our imaginations.
Though the last chapters of Children of God are somewhat predictable, I thought they provided an emotionally satisfying conclusion to Emilio Sandoz’s story. Was a whole novel necessary to get there? Maybe not, but I think Russell accomplished what she set out to do, and it was worth my time to complete the two book series. 3.5 stars.
Audio notes: Anna Fields is a competent narrator, but nothing special. I happened to have a paper copy of this book as well, and might recommend that format more. The contemplative quality of the writing is more evident without the sometimes overwrought accents that Fields employs.
17 of 17 people found this review helpful
The Sparrow and Children of God are on my all-time favorite book list. I was hooked from day one and didn't want to stop listening for a second. The author does a great job of making you think, regardless of your religious or non-religious beliefs. An unbelievable amount of thought and work went into creating these believable worlds and "alien" races, proving that Russell is an amazing author. I have nothing but wonderful things to say about these books, but if you listen to them one right after another, the narration is a bit weird. The Sparrow was narrated by a somewhat-robotic male and Children of God is narrated by a bit-odd-sounding woman. She pronounces things differently than the first narrator, so it takes a while to get into the new swing. The books are so good that the narration shift didn't even matter.
11 of 11 people found this review helpful