I received a review copy of the audiobook for To Sleep in a Sea of Stars through NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. Thank you so much to Christopher Paolini, Tor MacMillan Audio, and NetGalley for this opportunity.
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To Sleep in a Sea of Stars
by Christopher Paolini
Narrated by Jennifer Hale
Genre: Science Fiction, Space Opera, First Contact
Page Count: 880
Audio Length: 32 hrs 29 min
Publisher: Tor Books / Macmillan Audio
Publication Date: 15 September 2020
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My Rating: 5 Stars!
Kira Navarez is a xenobiologist in the 23rd century who accidentally discovers alien technology that changes the universe as she knows it. Jellies, Nightmares, the Soft Blade, The Maw? War is coming to this previously human-dominated sector of space, and peace will not be possible until humanity learns to speak first, shoot later. It’s a beautifully written first contact story that has a lot to say about us as a species, us as a society, and the dangers of taking xenophobia with us as we approach the possibilities of life beyond Earth. Trigger warnings: body horror, war.
Like most people who were reading modern science fiction and fantasy in the 2000s, I know Christopher Paolini from his Inheritance Cycle novels. That said, I never finished reading that series (2008 was the middle of college years for me) and it’s been a while, so when To Sleep in a Sea of Stars popped up on my radar, I didn’t immediately realize who this was. For that, I’m actually thankful. I heard fellow BookTubers raving about this epically long and beautiful science fiction adventure, got myself an ARC, and dove in completely unbiased. I now know from the afterward that there are intentional easter eggs to the Inheritance books, but since I went in without that in mind, I didn’t catch them. I did, however, catch multiple references to other great works of science fiction and fantasy throughout the book and appendices, and I thoroughly enjoyed those! Particularly the references to Douglas Adam’s work, Star Trek, and the various lyrics quoted in the text.
Paolini did an extraordinary job of crafting a not-to-distant future where humans have built an empire in the universe, and he’s managed to craft believable faster-than-light technology and explain it to us without falling into the trap of boring info dumps. I love the idea of shipminds, where humans can choose to upload into ships and escape the confines of a tiny human brain. These reminded me of Robin Hobb’s liveships, but without the kidnapping of those original minds. Gregorovich, the shipmind on The Wallfish, is a highlight in this book.
I would also like to praise Paolini for writing so many strong, believable women who never once give a single thought to their own upper anatomy outside of the bedroom.
My only critique of Paolini’s world-building is that the galactic military structure seen in this universe is very America-centric. For example, the footsoldier special forces arm of the military is called the Marines. Realistically, it’s unlikely that a space program funded by a single government will be the one to colonize space, so why are we assuming that 200-300 years from now in far-flung planetary systems we’ll still be recruiting “the few, the proud,” the Marines?
As mentioned, the ARC I received for review was specifically the audiobook version, so I would also like to praise the narrator, Jennifer Hale. This is her first audiobook, but likely not the first time anyone is hearing her voice, as she’s known for voicing parts in countless video games. Hale has an amazing talent for voices and made each and every named character sound distinct. Never once in the 39 hours and change of this audiobook file was I confused about which character was speaking. Every character’s voice has a different pitch, cadence, and accent, and Kira’s way of speaking changes as she becomes more and more entangled with the aliens. I also rate Hale’s performance 5 stars.
Before I go, I want to address the length of this book. At nearly 900 pages and over 39 hours in the audio recording, I’m impressed that the publisher was willing to trust an author whose bibliography is exclusively shorter YA novels and print this title as is rather than requiring him to split it into a duology or even a trilogy. The book feels episodic, and easily could have been split if that had been required, but I sincerely appreciate that we the readers get to experience it all at once. I think this would adapt well to TV, and I’ll be very surprised (and disappointed) if it doesn’t get picked up.
I look forward to possible sequels and related works, and I’m so excited for the future of Paolini’s writing as an adult author. I’ll definitely be grabbing a physical copy of this book to admire on my shelf, re-read, and force on my friends, but I’ll always hear Hale’s voices speaking for the cast.
About the Author
Christopher Paolini was born in Southern California and has lived most of his life in Paradise Valley, Montana. He published his first novel, Eragon, in 2003 at the age of nineteen, and quickly became a publishing phenomenon. His Inheritance Cycle—Eragon and its three sequels—have sold nearly 40 million copies worldwide. To Sleep in a Sea of Stars is his first adult novel.
About the Narrator
Jennifer Learning Hale is a Canadian-American voice actress, known for her work in video game series including Baldur’s Gate, Mass Effect, Metal Gear Solid, BioShock Infinite, Metroid Prime, Overwatch, and Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic. In 2013, she was recognized by Guinness World Records as “the most prolific video game voice actor (female.)” [Source: Wikipedia]
To Sleep in a Sea of Stars is her first Audiobook, but I think it’s safe to say it won’t be her last!
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