Review: To Sleep in a Sea of Stars

What an epic space journey! I was blown away, first by the length of To Sleep in a Sea of Stars and by Paolini’s mastery of creating such an amazing imaginary world. It actually doesn’t come as a surprise; he’s a great storyteller and will definitely make you feel part of the crew. With this book he transitions from YA fantasy (he wrote The Inheritance Cycle tetralogy) to adult science fiction and does a pretty good job. It’s a very dynamic and fast-paced read but also one that may take a while to finish, just because it’s massive and the plot is complicated as well. Be warned – spoilers ahead!

We trace the journey of Kira Navárez, a xenobiologist who investigates foreign lifeforms and planets to see if they’re suitable for terraforming. During a routine survey mission on an uncolonised planet, Kira comes across an ancient alien relic. She has always dreamed of discovering new worlds and, newly engaged, has her future all planned. Sadly, her discovery has devastating consequences, not only for herself but also for her crew and the whole galaxy as well.

In this space opera, set in the year 2257. you will find bizarre aliens, spaceships and interplanetary travels, space battles and space stations, as well as an exceptional skinsuit, called the Soft Blade – an advanced nanotechnology created by the Old Ones, an extinct ancient species. It covers Kira’s body, protecting her from dying in space, and also gives her visions, or memories, about past hosts and lives. She manages to escape from Dr. Carr’s experiments on her and on the Soft Blade, but finds out that a war has started between humanity and the Wranaui, aliens who worship the Old Ones. Travelling between galaxies and fighting across the stars, Kira soon realises she may be humanity’s last hope but will she live up to the task? The crew of the Wallfish, a smuggler space vessel, rescues her and she spends most of her time with them. They’re quite the characters – Gregorovich, the ship’s mind, being my favourite one ever – and even have a pig as a pet! It doesn’t get better than that for an action-packed and filled with dangers on every turn book set into space.

It’s definitely a plot-driven sci-fi novel with strong world-building going on, the characters are believable and I found all the conversations very natural. Kira evolves throughout the story and each one of the whole colourful set of supporting characters has their own unique voice. The science bits and space technology terms are approachable, easy to understand and exciting to read about; still, the terminology appendix comes in handy for some further explanations.

What I like is that the book isn’t only about epic space battles and eccentric aliens. It’s also a journey towards oneself, getting to know yourself again after losing everything you’ve ever known and finding the strength to go on. It’s about human relationships and what it means to be human.

A downside may be its length, which makes it somewhat difficult to tackle. Some of the descriptive sections are rather slow but needed to build that detailed world. Overall, it reads quite quickly, all the dialogue and moments of action will make the time fly by. The audiobook was such a delight too, like listening to a film, very intense and thrilling. Jennifer Hale does a marvellous job in narrating the story, you wouldn’t believe this is her first audiobook!

I was completely immersed into the fantastic world that Paolini’s imagination has created once again and very much enjoyed it. That’s what we want from a space odyssey anyway: an opportunity to escape from reality, to travel somewhere out of this world. I’d say mission accomplished.

By Joana Kalcheva.