A critically acclaimed best seller, The Sparrow was chosen as one of Entertainment Weekly's Ten Best Books of the Year, a finalist for the Book-of-the-Month Club's First Fiction Prize and the winner of the James M. Tiptree Memorial Award.
Now, in Children of God, Russell further establishes herself as one of the most innovative, entertaining and philosophically provocative novelists writing today.
The only member of the original mission to the planet Rakhat to return to Earth, Father Emilio Sandoz has barely begun to recover from his ordeal when the Society of Jesus calls upon him for help in preparing for another mission to Alpha Centauri. Despite his objections and fear, he cannot escape his past or the future.
Old friends, new discoveries and difficult questions await Emilio as he struggles for inner peace and understanding in a moral universe whose boundaries now extend beyond the solar system and whose future lies with children born in a faraway place.
Strikingly original, richly plotted, replete with memorable characters and filled with humanity and humor, Chil-dren of God is an unforgettable and uplifting novel that is a potent successor to The Sparrow and a startlingly imaginative adventure for newcomers to Mary Doria Russell's special literary magic.
©1999 Mary Doria Russell; (P)2008 Random House Audio
Couldn't fault the story or the narration, this was one of the most enjoyable books I have listened to.
Initially tricky to get use to the characters names, but once mastered no problem.
"A weaker, but worthwhile sequel"
Mary Doria Russell's The Sparrow was a beautifully complex human drama, which happened to be dressed in science fiction clothing. In it, a diverse cast of people set off to another star system, in hope of making humanity's first contact with another intelligent species. Though the mission was successful at first, it ultimately shattered in tragedy, leaving one survivor, a maimed, spiritually broken priest named Emilio Sandoz. Through his eyes, the story told is one of faith disappointed, and the struggle to come to terms with what the word "faith" might still mean after such trauma -- whether in humanity, in the people of other planets, or in the ultimate design of the universe.
I'm not sure if The Sparrow was a book that needed a sequel, but Russell felt that Emilio Sandoz's story wasn't finished, and contrives a way to bring him back to Rakhat, as well as a mission for him when he gets there. Thus, we get a second space expedition, with another crew of history-freighted characters. Meanwhile, on Rakhat (decades pass during transit), the native aliens find their attitudes changed by their contact with the foreigners, which sets in motion a civil war between the plant-eating "slave" species and the dominant, but less numerous predatory "master" species.
Children of God is as thoughtful a book as its predecessor, and Russell does an admirable job of expanding on the themes she established in the Sparrow, finding hope, meaning, and connections to religious ideas in events on Rakhat, while maintaining a vision of a God that’s ultimately mysterious. The plotting, however, feels more labored this time around, an obvious process of getting pieces into place with plenty of glossing over of logic. Other than Emilio Sandoz, most of the characters feel like talking biographical dossiers who don’t have all that much to do other than push the protagonist in various directions. I missed the organic friendships of the crew in the Sparrow, and found it hard to care about Danny Ironhorse and Sean Fein in the same way.
The part of the novel set on Rakhat isn’t uninteresting, though the alien characters feel more human than they did before and I had some trouble keeping their identities straight. Russell seems to be going for a parallel between the Runa and the Biblical Jews in Egypt, but with a different kind of outcome, which I thought went well with all the other religious themes in the book. I enjoyed seeing how the herd mentality of the Runa, which had previously kept them docile, could be turned into an advantage against a foe with a less collective-minded, more aristocratic society. It would have been interesting to see, in a third novel, where things on Rakhat went after the war ended, given the future issues Russell hints at, but we’ll just have to use our imaginations.
Though the last chapters of Children of God are somewhat predictable, I thought they provided an emotionally satisfying conclusion to Emilio Sandoz’s story. Was a whole novel necessary to get there? Maybe not, but I think Russell accomplished what she set out to do, and it was worth my time to complete the two book series. 3.5 stars.
Audio notes: Anna Fields is a competent narrator, but nothing special. I happened to have a paper copy of this book as well, and might recommend that format more. The contemplative quality of the writing is more evident without the sometimes overwrought accents that Fields employs.
"Even better than The Sparrow"
The Sparrow and Children of God are on my all-time favorite book list. I was hooked from day one and didn't want to stop listening for a second. The author does a great job of making you think, regardless of your religious or non-religious beliefs. An unbelievable amount of thought and work went into creating these believable worlds and "alien" races, proving that Russell is an amazing author. I have nothing but wonderful things to say about these books, but if you listen to them one right after another, the narration is a bit weird. The Sparrow was narrated by a somewhat-robotic male and Children of God is narrated by a bit-odd-sounding woman. She pronounces things differently than the first narrator, so it takes a while to get into the new swing. The books are so good that the narration shift didn't even matter.
Great characterization. It was easy to visually imagine the people and the great scenes. The story really grew on me.
"What a Special Talent!"
I found The Sparrow late for someone who reads a lot of science fiction and the novel just knocked me off my feet. I didn't realize at first that there was a sequel, but when I did, I delayed picking it up. I just didn't see what could be added to The Sparrow to make it any better. Finally, aching for some good sci-fi, I took the plunge and listened to Children of God and I am so glad I did.
There are some good reviews of the book and if you've read The Sparrow (and you must read The Sparrow to follow Children of God), then you know Russell is a masterful writer and the story is fascinating so I won't go into the plot details here.
One of the reasons that I was so taken by The Sparrow is that Mary Doria Russell is only the second novelist I have ever read that was able to discuss Christian theology in a truly thoughtful AND very entertaining way within the confines of GOOD fiction. (The first was Susan Howatch in her amazing Starbridge series.) Many books touch on religious and/or spiritual themes and I would argue that it is tough for a book to really be 5-star if it doesn't have a spiritual aspect because that is such a big part of Human Nature - the big questions and challenges in life almost always have a spiritual component. But when you dive into the actual theology of a religion, most writers get preachy or boring and Russell never does. She mixes the theological questions into the plot in such an integral way that the listener never feels hit over the head with it and it never stops the action or the character development. Independent of your religious orientation, Children of God is thought provoking and sometimes profound all the while it is being REALLY entertaining. What a talent that is!
I thought Anna Fields was superb in her narration. Her character voices are well done and her pacing is great. And a note for anyone like me who may have had a gap between The Sparrow and Children of God - the beginning of Children of God will quickly catch you up without necessitating re-reading The Sparrow. (Of course, re-reading The Sparrow would never be wasted time!)
The Sparrow didn't demand a sequel, but it left some unanswered questions that get satisfying answers in Children of God and this sequel gave Mary Doria Russell another chance to flash her special talent. I highly recommend Children of God.
"Mary Doria Russell slays me"
I do not own the print version. The author does a marvelous job of acting-narrating
Children of God and the Sparrow are incomparable to anything else I've read
The relationship scenes between Gina and Sandoz. They seemed so cathartic for Sandoz.
I felt a relationship to the characters that I will miss and will need to go back to as if they are old friends.
Mary Doria Russell's breadth of knowledge about religion-philosophy, the premise of the the Jesuits funding extraterrestrial travel, the Pope being from Africa, Sophia Mendes, where do I stop?! My only disappointment is the depiction of the extraterrestrials (can't spell names of species since listened to not read) as beast like. This imagine intelligent beings. Mary Doria Russell's breadth of knowledge about religion-philosophy, the premise of the Jesuits funding extraterrestrial travel, the Pope being from Africa, Sophia Mendes, where do I stop?! My only disappointment is the depiction of the extraterrestrials (can't spell names of species since listened to not read) as beast like. This imagine intelligent beings from outside of our know space to be unimaginable. I think the film Close Encounters of the Third Kind came as close to nailing down what my concept of these beings would appear. I hope we get the author to Writer's On a New England stage so the audience gets to converse with her.
Pardon me if my note is not grammatically perfect. I am just too bowled over and need to write as if speaking. WOW!
"Confusing disconnect and mixed feelings"
There were many parts in Children of God during which I found it hard to believe this was the same author as The Sparrow. The latter was one of the best books I picked up this year but the sequel was disappointing. My friend Brooke thought a sequel was unnecessary and, as far as the storyline in the first installment went, it was unnecessary. The story had a satisfying ending in The Sparrow, but the book was so good, I was sure hoping for more.
Other reviewers found CoG to be boring and confusing. There were places, actually many places, that I found this to be true. This was particularly true while I felt mired in the tedium of Rakhat politics and VaRahkati civil war. The first story seemed to magically flow from the author; the second felt like the author was really just working to put out a second installment. Book one focused on the earthlings; book two focused on two less interesting alien cultures.
I almost never complain that a book was too long. I love long books. I love long books that have substance throughout. In so many places in CoG I felt I was reading fluff.
Now that I've gotten all the bashing off my chest, here's how I feel in the end. The Sparrow was such an extraordinary book that I have to give the author the benefit of the doubt and concede that maybe and just, maybe I might have missed something and might have to read this one again to fully appreciate it. Nah, that's bologna, the book was a disappointment. But I do not regret the time spent reading it and I will read it again at another time and if I have a greater appreciation, I promise I'll come back and be more complementary. Otherwise, 3 stars is the best that I can give this sequel whose predecessor deserved the highest of ratings and praise.
As far as the narration went, it was very good. Again, it was not as good as The Sparrow but it was very good.
"Don't be fooled... the narrator is great!"
I will not review the story much here, except to say that is a worthwhile followup to the Sparrow; anyone who enjoyed the Sparrow should read this, anyone who hasn't read the Sparrow should read it first. An excellent and thought-provoking book, perhaps not quite the masterpiece the Sparrow was, but worthy of it.
When first listening to this immediately after finishing the Sparrow, I was thrown by the narrator. The narration on the Sparrow was sublime, among the best I've listened to, possibly THE best, especially given the range of characters and attitudes that needed to be voiced. The beginning of Children of G-d is narrator-heavy (as opposed to dialog-heavy), and the contrast between the bold, female narrator here and the subdued, plaintive male narrator of the Sparrow gave me pause. I worried it would be a disappointment. But, again, the characterizations were sublime, and cohesive with the Sparrow's. Anna Fields' narratorial voice turns out to be better suited to many of the parts of THIS book - especially the major characters of Haanala and Isaac (sp?). Really beautifully done, adding a great deal to this complex world. Brava! Also a strong candidate for best-narrated audiobook ever.
"Thought provoking mix of sci-fi and religion"
I listened to The Sparrow and immediately moved on to The Children of God. Enjoyed listening to both and following the adventure into the discovery of other intelligent live in the solar system. Many well developed and memorable characters with dialog which propelled the story forward to discover a world beyond our own. It has many political and societal issues woven into the story, if you pay close enough attention to catch the author’s attempts to make statements about the church, capitalism, politics, belief in a higher power, slavery and population control. Some of the characters switch from good to bad and back several times during each book. These are novels that can make you listen for a while and then think about how this effects our present, our past and our future, for just as long. I found myself often stopping to contemplate these issues before continuing on with the story. If you have two credits and want several hours of intelligent novels, by all means get The Sparrow and The Children of God. (please note, you don’t need to get COG, but you really must start with The Sparrow. I don’t think you would understand near as much of COG without first listening to The Sparrow.)
I was grateful for the fine performance. Anna Fields' voice covers such a range as to make the male characters as believable as the female. Her accents were skillful enough and consistent so that I came to know the character speaking without any other identifying cues.
The story, like The Sparrow, was multidimensional. Mary Doria Russell moved freely and seamlessly between an exploration of the science involved in inter-stellar travel, the technology to make that possible, the cultural complexities of alien races, the depth and breadth of our understanding of and relation to God. And she wrote two novels of compelling fiction that explored the central characters in depth. Emilio Sandoz, Sophia Mendez and the alien characters as well feel to me like individuals that I know and care for.
If I could have, yes.
In The Sparrow and Children of God, Mary Doria Russel has made a contribution to the world of literature, not just Sci Fi.
"Essential reading for fans of the Sparrow"
While the Sparrow does stand well on its own, this book fleshes out the characters, their story, and the world of Rakhat in such a way that I would consider it essential. To me, the story is unfinished without it. Anna Fields does an exceptional job, and by the second chapter you've completely forgotten that they switched narrators. This is a complex story full of allegory and packed with thought-provoking ideas. You will be pondering this book long after you're through reading.
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