To Sleep in a Sea of Stars by Christopher Paolini

Rating: 4 out of 5.
Shielded (Shielded, #1) by KayLynn Flanders

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 . . .

So I was a middle-grade reader of the Inheritance Cycle and at that point in my life I absolutely loved it. Rereading it recently opened my eyes to some of the flaws that I may not have noticed all those years ago, but it will always hold a special place in my heart. That being said, when I heard about this new book, I was incredibly excited to see how Paolini had evolved, despite my being less enthusiastic about sci-fi.

Turns out this kind of sci-fi is definitely my style. It took Paolini years of rewrites to come out with the final product…and it shows. This was an adventure of epic proportions, and I am still stunned at how he managed to build such an intricate story with philosophical themes about what it means to be human and the value of life in general. This was an 900-page behemoth that kept me turning pages nonstop.

This novel isn’t just “pew pew” back and forth until the bad guy is dead (although there is a lot of that); there are elements that I wouldn’t have expected to see in a sci-fi like this. The character development of our main character, Kira, is pretty astounding. She’s smart and brave while still having moments of doubt and anguish. She’s the perfect companion for this sort of adventure, and I was so proud of who she had become by the end of the book. I don’t think the other characters were nearly as well-developed, but honestly I’m ok with that since everything was from her perspective anyway. Her character arc encompassed a lot of the aspects that brought depth into the story; her exploration of morality and self took this to another level for me. Seeing her struggles of being human juxtaposed against the alien lifeforms/technologies made her decisions relatable while still leaving room for the wonders of the universe.

Also, I was pleasantly surprised by the prose. The Eragon series is a bit notorious for its lack of artistry, and I think Paolini has come a long way in that regard. He has always been a strong storyteller, and this time I think the language was able to reinforce that skill. It wasn’t flowery or especially individualistic, but I think that’s ok for a novel of this length. Having streamlined (but well-written) prose for 900 pages is definitely preferable, at least in my opinion.

There were a few plot points that kind of fizzled out without any bearing on the main direction of the story, which was a bit frustrating. I wish these hadn’t been included because they just made the plot drag a bit. In addition, I think there was a bit too much extraneous description that could have also been trimmed away (descriptions of walking from point A to point B, etc.). Overall, though, I think To Sleep followed a nice arc that wrapped up with a perfectly ambiguous ending. It left a lot of room for thought while still being satisfying.

There are a few things in the afterword that really just made me want to read this again, including affirmation of Eragon Easter eggs as well as a hint towards deeper meanings of certain things in the book. Maybe someone will do an analysis of this one day so that I don’t have to…

Anyways, that about sums up my initial thoughts. I would highly recommend this to Paolini lovers, even if sci-fi isn’t your cup of tea. I think the story was really well done, and I’m so glad I got to see the universe from Kira’s eyes. It’s clear that there is a true love for the beauty of the unknown parts of the vast world we live in. While I may not understand all of the technical jargon*, the wonder and trepidation of being such a small piece in the universe is something I have a lot of appreciation for.

*For those of you who are not comfortable in sci-fi settings, I was in the same boat (ship?) and I don’t think it detracted from my experience. While there is a fair amount of technical jargon, I found that it was fine that I wasn’t able to follow it exactly (also, I’m not sure if it was actually logical technicalities or if it was a load of baloney). I thought that the culture/dialogue was built up well enough that I could understand the gist of what was happening during the especially tech-heavy scenes.