Mary Doria Russell’s The Sparrow

I’ve renamed this book Jesuits in Space. Imagine a slightly futuristic Earth, a Catholic Church with clout, and radio signals from Alpha Centauri, picked up by the nearly defunct SETI. The Jesuits mount a mission including several priests, a Jew, and your grandparents. No, really; they’re your grandparents. Bad Things occur and people die and faith is lost in deities.

This was a fun, if incredulous, read. Russell created good characters, setup a decent plot, and let them run. Unfortunately, it was more than a bit fantastical. I mean, a super-linguist who was able to pick up on the patterns of language of aliens so quickly? Maybe. But it just so happened that the aliens had methods of speaking like ours (in the same ranges of sound and that vocal cords could imitate). …k. And without any type of pre-mission research, Alpha Centauri happened to have edible food (although, admittedly, slightly nutrient deficient). …yeah.

Deus vult, indeed.

Russell’s pace was agonizing, and that was what made the book hard to read, even moreso than the incredulous plot. The narrative jumped between the “present” (2060 Earth, after the return of the spaceship) and the planning, preparation, and actual mission. Except that it took damn near forever for the mission and its violence to actually get started, and disproportionately little time was dedicated to the thing that had been played up and hinted about for the previous 200-odd pages. I began to wonder if she was going to leave the good bits and details for the sequel.

And even once we had the details, it felt… anticlimatic. Like Russell ran out of steam or pages or words.

I liked The Sparrow, but I doubt I’ll be picking up the sequel. I think the Jesuits should stay home for a little while. Leave the aliens alone, particularly since they managed to mess up society while they were there.


  • Bob

    Sounds interesting, but not really my thing. I did read The Half-Blood Prince. You should pick that one up

  • Lissa

    Bob, you mean the next Potter book? That one is definitely on the top of my list, but I’m hesitant to buy it before it’s in paperback.

  • Caitlin

    I’m surprised to hear of anyone who’s actually read the sparrow. I did a year or so ago – I must admit, I was pretty incredulous of the plot line. It was a good read if you feel like letting your mind go for a bit.