To Sleep in a Sea of Stars by Christopher Paolini

This book is about the First Contact, but not as we know it. I was fascinated by how this concept evolved in To Sleep in a Sea of Stars. It starts with Kira, a xenobiologist exploring an uncolonized planet, discovering mysterious dust which soon envelops her in a form of an invasive exoskeleton. It is undeniably intelligent but it is also a parasite that uses Kira’s body to come into being and to transport itself. It is able to defend itself against any attempts to examine or destroy it. It can be lethal. In an apparent act of self-defence it kills Kira’s fiancé and her several friends. To start with, this organism appears violent and hostile, and Kira is trapped within it. It can even penetrate her mind and she, in turn, experiences its memories and emotions. Soon the relationship between them begins to transform into something more symbiotic. It isn’t just that Kira has to get used to the creature controlling her. It is also that the creature protects and guides her. This theme of a transforming and transformative relationship between a human and an alien is wonderfully conveyed through characterisation and plot developments.

Another great asset in this book is the prose: it can be fast and action-packed, pacey and dramatic, but it is also lyrical and introspective. A whole universe has been created outside and inside Kira’s fusion with Soft Blade (the alien’s name). This story is a space odyssey both on a macro- and micro scale. The science behind it seems wonderfully real and even though I didn’t follow all of it, it felt credible.

However, there are some disappointments. The story is way too long and too windy. Half of it would be equally effective. I must confess to skipping many sections in the middle as I found them tedious and superfluous. Although the book is classified as sci-fi for adults, I could not shake the impression that it was written with a young reader in mind. The description of Kira’s romantic relationship at the start of the book was too safe, too sugar-coated and too infantile for my liking. The Jellies (hostile aliens) were also a bit cartoonish and stereotypical in their appearance and disposition. Having said that, this is a sci-fi book and it fits well within its genre.

You will need a lot of time to truly be able to indulge in this book and immerse yourself in it, but it will be time well spent.

After the Fire by Will Hill

There are two time dimensions in this story: two eras with a single point of reference – the fire. The fire has destroyed a compound which was a home of a religious cult led by the charismatic and savage father John. The opening chapter thrusts the reader straight into the inferno as the reader follows the female narrator and watches with her eyes the death to the people she called her brothers and sisters and the destruction to the place she knew as her home. She doesn’t take it passively – she does everything in her power to save lives.
After the Fire she is examined by a psychologist and interviewed by an FBI agent, and the events Before the Fire are masterfully pieced together to recreate the life within an extreme religious sect. The young woman embarks on a journey of self-discovery which is a bit of a minefield as she has too many secrets to bury while at the same time uncovering the truth.
Fundamentalism and religious brainwash are pitted against the failings of human nature and against the power of rational mind. There are no winners as such, but this book isn’t about the black-and-white victories, it is about salvation and survival of reason.

The Tides Between by Elizabeth Jane Corbett

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The story – ‘The Tides Between’ – is led mainly from the point of view of a young teenage girl, Bridie Stewart. Set in 1841, the story follows Bridie as she and her family set to emigrate to Port Philip. This means that most of the story takes place aboard the ship, the Lady Sophia, amongst all its passengers heading for the new world.

The character Bridie is someone who another young teen, like myself, can easily empathise with and relate to. In an attempt to juggle the demands of the oncoming responsibilities that come with transforming from child to an adult, Bridie finds herself hiding in her Father’s book of Welsh fairytales. The plot is engaging as you can explore different characters’ perceptions and back stories.

The writing is descriptive and well reflects the time period. I felt transported in time and place. The use of Welsh fairytales helps further contribute to the overall colourful writing.
I would definitely consider reading another book from this author. 4.5*

Review written by Haley Evans (14) who as a little girl also traversed the same tides, but in the opposite direction (from New Zealand to Britain).