I read the first book in this series, The Sparrow, several years ago. After returning it to the library, I went straight to the bookstore and bought my own copy to keep. That book has since survived at least three moves and several purges of stuff, including a reduction of my book collection to about a third its original size. I can tell you right now that it will survive every move and downsize the future has in store, too. I will never and I mean never get rid of that book.
So you can imagine my excitement when I learned that there was a sequel.
Mary Doria Russell writes about religion (in this case, Catholicism and Judaism) in a way that makes it accessible even to someone like me, a non-religious person raised by a largely atheist family. There is no proselytizing, and no sense that any answers, religious or otherwise, are absolute. Instead, the characters continuously explore what their faith or lack thereof means to them, and how it informs their identity, relationships, and experiences. I related easily with all of them because they are portrayed first and foremost as human, all with familiar questions and doubts. Maybe that would seem completely obvious to someone who was raised with religion (like, duh, people are people), but to me, it was a new perspective, and I loved it.
The fact that this book is science fiction is icing on top of the character-driven cake. The events that take place on Rakhat in this book aren’t quite as engaging as they were in the first book, but I think that makes sense. The Sparrow was about first contact. Children of God is about first contact’s repercussions. It’s a slower burn. Though the initial awe is gone, I was still extremely interested in following the resolution to the upheaval that began in book 1. The alien races and society are well-imagined and deep, as is the tension between them that builds and eventually boils over. The conclusion absolutely doesn’t disappoint.
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.