My second book of 2021 took me nearly three weeks to complete, and believe me, it was not from lack of trying. This story is long. Like, 850 pages long. To my surprise, this book has received rave reviews from everyone. Many have even praised it for its "fast-pace", which makes me wonder if I even read the same book as these people.
I could not wait to finish this book, not because I needed to see how it ended, but because I was desperate to begin reading something else. Don't get me wrong, there were some things that worked for me but there were more that didn't. In the interest of putting the positive first, I will begin with my favorite aspects of this novel.
First, the inciting incident of the whole story (Kira finding the xeno on Adra) was honestly really rad. The next hundred or so pages of her figuring out how it worked and what it was capable of had me turning page after page with giddy anticipation. Next, I will say that Paolini's world building is good. Not great, but good. I liked the FTL technology and the multi-system colonies and was especially into the mystery surrounding the finding of a lost alien beacon. Finally, I have to give credit to the author for simply writing an 850 page novel that I was willing to finish at all.
But now the bad. The main character, Kira, just didn't work for me. She was one dimensional and unbelievable. I mean, she kills her fiance on accident and thinks about it like twice afterwards. The problems with Kira's character extend to many of the others who are either too trite or too cliched. Everyone is seemingly a trope from Sparrow the buff short-haired bruiser to Vishal the timid soft-spoken doctor. Every UMC character had the exact same boring military affect. The only character I connected with and wanted to know more about was Itari, an alien squid that communicated through smell.
As an evolutionary biologist myself, I was disappointed by the lack of interesting aliens in a book about aliens. The Wranui were contrived squid creatures with tentacles like every other sci fi alien and the nightmares were not really... aliens. Paolini took great pains to make the technological world fit within the realm of physics but did nothing to explore the biology in the same way. Why would the Wranui communicate via smell if they evolved underwater? How does the short range signaling work? Do they use volatile compounds? If so, it would be really easy to translate their language making Kira's original purpose obsolete.
At the end of the day, this book is well reviewed by others and Paolini will make a ton of money from this book and frankly good for him. I cheer for any author that sees this kind of success. Truth is, it wasn't for me and I will not be holding my breath for the next one.