Book Review: Children of God by Mary Doria Russell


You may have gathered from my recent review of The Sparrow that it would be a tough book to follow. But, its ending was so depressingly brilliant that a sequel… well, had this been Hollywood instead of whatever the literary equivalent is, it would have been inevitable.

Evitable or not, Children of God is that sequel, and in time honoured tradition of sequels, is not anything like as good.

Which doesn’t make it a bad book by any means; it covers much of the same moral, spiritual and socio-political ground as The Sparrow, and is at least as mean to Emilio. The book is essentially made up of two disctinct stories: that of Emilio Sandoz as he tries (and almost succeeds) to get back to a normal life outside the priesthood, and that of Sofia Mendes, left for dead on Rakhat by her colleagues and now raising a child there among the Runa rebellion.

As the two story arcs follow their slow but inevitable collision course, there are plenty of layers, some pretty deep themes, Emilio getting utterly abused in new and horrible ways, and of course the aftermath of First Contact – the rebellion itself, which does a pretty thorough job of ruining Rakhat society.

It is undeniably a beautiful piece of writing; emotional, complex and non-preachy, but for me it lacked the page-turner appeal of its predecessor so I relatively plodded through it. I suspect I did it no favours by doing that, and indeed when it got to the more exciting bits and I did keep reading at a decent pace it was… well, all of the good things I said about it in the last sentence, but with more intensity.

It should be said though that this is a story of closure, on a personal and cultural level. That is, essentially, the reason Emilio is sent back to Rakhat with his new crew, and what they in turn try to achieve for the remnants of Runa and Jana’ata culture. The catalyst for the whole adventure – music – is brought full circle in the closing chapters. Even (slight spoiler) Emilio gets a happy ending.

If you wanted The Sparrow to be slightly less bleak, read Children of God – but be warned, it gets worse before it gets better.

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