If a Star Trek episode met Ripley in Aliens and then drove across the stars to follow some old alien relic only to incite a war, uncover a history that’s never been unearthed, and have aliens and humans come together, then you get this book. It’s an epic adventure across the stars as Christopher Paolini pens his very first adult science fiction novel. Sorry, there’s no space dragons.
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 . . .”
Ok, I’m going to try my best to write this review without spoiling it. To be honest, the entire book is a spoiler and it starts when Kira discovers this “alien relic.” From that moment on, you’re following Kira through her journey looking for answers for what she’s discovered. Along the way, she makes friends with a civilian vessel called the Wallfish, which really felt like a ragtag team of misfits come together to traverse the stars. It reminded me a lot of Becky Chambers’s The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet even with a quirky ship’s mind named Gregorovich. I did love the representation Paolini added to this book as well. However, that’s where the similarities end.
In so many ways this book was such a great space opera; tons of action, lots of world building, traveling through space. I absolutely loved the maps. The action sequences didn’t keep anything back and there was so much going on. But there were things that I couldn’t overlook. I think the length of the novel and Paolini’s long-winded descriptions really put a damper on the book for me. But let’s get into the parts that I really loved.
The world building was INTENSE. It’s probably the most vivid science fiction novel I’ve read. It’s almost like Paolini didn’t want you to question any piece of the story that he’s sharing. There was such incredible nuance even creating a language for the aliens to speak (it’s telepathic and includes…smells). I think that the aliens themselves were also really interesting and I felt like their story was almost like a fantasy novel within itself. Space jellies! Feels better than dragons.
I also really loved Kira’s character. She wasn’t a bad ass that leapt head first into the fire. She was a thinker, a person who studied the alien relic. She made some pretty big mistakes with the relic as well, which made her so much more human. I really loved that she wasn’t a Mary Sue and that this didn’t come easy to her. I wanted there to be more conversations with her and the other crew members (outside of Falconi and Gregorovich), but I just loved that this was her story and it really humanized the entire piece.
I think the war between humans and jellies were probably the most interesting part of the story. There was that interesting dichotomy between the two species and I wondered how Paolini would approach this situation. And there were some scary sounding space creatures. First off, they’re called “jellies,” as in jellyfish. They had the same shape as a jellyfish or even a squid. Then there were crab monsters, but the worst were the “nightmares;” half-human, half-jelly monstrosities that were indiscriminately killing everything. I loved as you moved through the story and you learn more about the jellies, you get to relate to them a little more. And the ending felt like Kira was finally meeting the big boss in a video game. It’s time to defeat the big guy!
Speaking of the end, I think the ending is where it kind of falls apart for me. Granted, it was definitely a wild show during that final battle, but it almost felt like Paolini couldn’t figure out how to finish the novel. There were things being introduced right at the end and doesn’t even get explored because it was over. It was beautiful and the language in this part of the book read more lyrical and metaphorical, but it felt different from the rest of the book.
Overall, I liked it but it truly was an investment in my time and energy. You’ll be enamored by the world and the adventures Kira and the Wallfish take across the stars. You’ll love the little lines about life and death and hearing the conversations throughout the story. You’ll love their friendships and how they show up for each other. I think you’ll even love the jellies! I would recommend this to folks who love a good science fiction novel. It’s definitely got jargon and some things did go over my head, but you don’t need a degree in astrophysics to understand it. But you’ll need to make the space in your life to read it.
Thanks to Tor.com and Netgalley for the gifted copy of this book.