To Sleep in a Sea of Stars by Christopher Paolini
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
Narrated by Jennifer Hale.
First Contact with an alien/xeno organism with overtones of the Aliens film series (Kira seems like a ringer for Ripley to me) or maybe Venom; followed by contact with an alien civilization that was truly foreign to our own (and threatens our very existence).
This is a very long (30+ hours) story that starts out a little rough. The narration was pretty good; however, some voices periodically had an unnatural feel to them for me (mostly with the 'softer' tone she used to represent Kira's inner voice, but I am actually quite picky in that regard). Most of it was rock solid though ... especially the action dialog. After awhile, I either got used to it, or the narrator hit her stride, because it didn't bother me much toward the end and I remain absolutely impressed with the range of voices supporting her narration.
This is a plot driven story that builds slowly as Paolini introduces each piece before settling down to tell the real story. He does this with the skill of a master story teller; however, the tempo may lose some readers before you get to the best parts. Be patient ... it is totally worth it. Unfortunately, the final combat scene was painfully drawn out, and once the main conflict is resolved, the story redshifts into fantasy and coasts for way too long (making the story something of a bell curve with respect to how much I enjoyed it). This is the primary reason it doesn't get 5* from me.
Character Building: Before the early supporting characters faded from the narrative, I found them to be extremely shallow, irritating and slightly over the top (obvious) in their fidelity to the stereotypes they are based on. For the most part, they did thier job in moving the plot along and providing a foil for Kira's internal conflicts, but they didn't do much after that. The main character (MC) is xenobiologist Kira Navárez who begins the story as something of a victim of circumstance, driven forward by forces not under her control after an accidental exposure to a xeno artifact. Kira seems to be the only character with any growth as she struggles to reclaim her own agency. It took me awhile to connect with her and her internal drama and self recriminations, but I eventually got there with the help of two strong supporting characters (ship captain Falconi and ship mind Gregorovich) ... both of which slowing developed into strong characters in their own right. A few other characters periodically cross the stage, but they felt more like the earlier characters that were more shallow and mostly there to move the plot along. Most of the characters in this story exist primarily to support the plot.
World Building: Flat out some of the best that I have ever encountered; but it was not so obvious at the beginning. Paolini inserts details into his story with such skill that it was not until the end, where I had a full view of his creation and how it all works, that I could see all the hard work that went into making it so believable (and on full display in the addendum). The tech was a well developed take on many of the traditional Sci-Fi tropes and left me wanting to see it all for real. Each of the three poles (Humans/UMC, 'Jellies'/Renowii[sp?] and Vanished), along with emerging the 'Nightmares/Corrupted,' have a unique perspective that was interesting to explore and reasonably drove the interactions between them. There are even a few surprising revelations that give you 'ah-ha' moments that makes you revisit some of what has already happened in a new light. All of that helped to create a nearly perfect immersive experience that pulls you through the story at break neck speed (IAW it was almost impossible to walk away from once it got moving).
I was given this free advance review copy (ARC) ebook at my request and have voluntarily left this review.
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My Ratings Explained ...
- [ ***** ] Amazing Read - Perfect story, exciting, engrossing, well developed complex characters, solid plot with few to no holes, descriptive environments and place settings, great mystery elements, realistic dialogue, believable reactions and behaviors; a favorite that I can re-read many times.
- [ **** ] Great Read - Highly entertaining and enjoyable, exciting storyline, well developed characters and settings, a few discrepancies but nothing that can’t be overlooked. Some aspect of the story was new/refreshing to me and/or intriguing. Recommended for everyone.
- [ *** ] Good Read - Solid story with a 'good' ending, or has some other redeeming feature. Limited character development and/or over reliance on tropes. Noticeable discrepancies in world building and/or dialog/behavior that were distracting. I connected enough with the characters/world to read the entire series. Most of the books I read for fun are here. Recommended for fans of the genre.
- [ ** ] Okay Read - Suitable for a brief, afternoon escape … flat or shallow characters with little to no development. Over the top character dialog and/or behavior. Poor world building with significant issues and/or mistakes indicating poor research. Excessive use of trivial detail, info dumps and/or pontification. Any issues with the story/characters are offset by some other aspect that I enjoyed. Not very memorable. May only appeal to a niche group of readers. Recommended for some (YMMV).
- [ * ] Bad Read - Awkward and/or confusing writing style. Poor world building and/or unbelievable (or unlikeable) characters. Victimization, gaslighting, blatant abuse, unnecessary violence, child endangerment, or any other highly objectionable behaviors by Main characters. I didn't connect with the story at all; significant aspects of this story irritated me enough that I struggled to finished it. Series was abandoned. Not recommended.