I asked for book recommendations on Facebook, and this was one of ‘em. The last one having been so damn good (City of Thieves by David Benioff), I was eager to get into this one as well. First things first, I had no idea what this book was about. Just bought it on the recommendation. The Sparrow sounds like literary fiction, something that’s gonna be introspective, philosophical, etc. And…it was. But, it was also a science fiction book. I’m not gonna spoil things for ya, but there’s another planet, with aliens. I hadn’t read science fiction or fantasy since I geeked it out in elementary school (and just to be clear, I still geek it out, just not with science fiction or Halo 3 anymore). Worth a shot though. As they say, “Wrote a song about it…wanna hear it? Here it go.”
The story’s main character is a Jesuit priest named Emilio Sandoz. Okay, that could be interesting. He is seriously messed up because of a voyage he made to the aforementioned alien planet. Go on. The story takes place between the past, which involves discovery of the planet and the ultimate trip there, and the present (which is set far in the future–it takes time to travel to planets, aight?), when Father Sandoz has returned. In the present, the characters around Father Sandoz are trying to help him recover from what happened to him on the alien planet. That’s all I’m telling ya, no spoiler. In the past, Father Sandoz and a crew of several other voyagers, ranging from a doctor (who is a splendid character) to an artist, collectively brave the new world.
The build up to the actual voyage was lengthy, borderline tedious. Russell certainly developed her characters, but there wasn’t much going on in the way of action to sustain tension. Once the characters got to the alien planet, there was certainly a period of time that the story became extremely interesting. Now, we were witness to a world created in Russell’s mind. The alien residents are intriguing, and are essentially separated into two groups–predator and prey. Russell’s prey group is interesting for a time, but their inherent simpleness makes them dull after too much time. On the other hand, her predator group is very intriguing. Unfortunately, we do not get to see much of them until the end of the book. Even at that point, we don’t get to spend nearly as much time with them as we did with the prey group.
The primary suspense in the story was what Father Sandoz did on the alien planet, and was what done to him, that was so disgraceful. This is literally what takes up the entire part of the “present” time story line, along with Father Sandoz’s struggle to reconcile what happened to him and his faith. Honestly, once I reached the point of what happened to him, it was a bit underwhelming. Maybe because I’ve grown up in a generation exposed to Faces of Death, or maybe I just shot too many people in first person shooters, but I was like, “meh,” when it all went down.
I was also distracted by Russell’s habit of saying her piece through her characters. And, to be fair, she didn’t use diatribes. Taking a step back, this is a book about religion, and struggle with faith. Wrapped up as it may be with aliens and romance and asteroid spaceships, bottom line is that struggling to understand God was front and center. So, while Russell didn’t try to push a certain point at all, and she did a good job of presenting multiple types of faith, at times the characters would start ruminating about God and faith when all you wanted was for them to do something. Or, to have something done to them…
In all, this book didn’t inspire me to think differently, although I felt it could have. The book wasn’t a page turner, because action and suspense was relatively sparse. And, being a long book, it was unfortunate to combine that with not being a page turner. If you’re gonna take the time to read something this substantial, there are other options. For instance, City of Thieves by David Benioff, which I will review in full shortly, and which was (by far) the best book I’ve read in quite a while.