Escape Velocity

A curated Collection of Fantasy and Science Fiction Media


Check out our other posts on content mentioned here:

For the past few… months, I should say, I’ve been listening to the audiobook of To Sleep in a Sea of Stars by Christopher Paolini.


I must admit that since reading Eragon a couple of years ago, I’ve been conflicted about Christopher Paolini. To put it plainly… I really hated Eragon. It read like it was written by a 15 year old – and it was. However, my problem was never with Christopher Paolini. After all, A 15 year old writing a novel is quite an impressive feat. The chances of that novel actually being good were always gonna be rather slim, especially when you consider that the book was never edited by a proper editor.


Still, Eragon was written 15 years ago. Paolini is an adult now, and To Sleep in a Sea of Stars was published by an actual publishing house. When I started this book, I was really rooting for Paolini. Unfortunately, even the book that I kept mentally referring to as his “redemption arc” wasn’t able to win me over.


In order to not be overly negative, I want to preface this article by saying that I don’t actually think Paolini is a bad writer at all. The prose of To Sleep in a Sea of Stars is very well written and never bothered me. One could argue that it takes more than that to make someone a good writer, but as far as I’m concerned, this book only needed a couple of adjustments to make it pretty good. It’s really the wasted potential for me. So what I want to do here is not just point out all the things I didn’t like about the book, but actually offer my insights into how I think this book could have been improved.


But let’s start with the bad stuff.

Oh Kira… Kira, Kira, Kira. When I was listening to the book, I would occasionally make a note of how I felt about it. It was taking me a really long time to get through, and I was worried I would forget what I thought of the beginning by the time I had reached the end. Some of my original notes are… interesting, looking back.


Let’s start with the very first bullet point. A real doozy:


“A little slow but Kira is interesting”


It only took me 10 hours of listening (that is, a third of the book) to add: “is she though?”.




This… is the story of Kira.


Meet Kira. She’s a badass. Nothing affects her. She’s totally chill, all of the time. Some of her tough shell might have been explained by her background, except that it isn’t. Kira is a scientist. She’s been single for a really long time before meeting her current fiancé, Allan, who gets fridged so quickly and efficiently he isn’t even mentioned by name on the Wikipedia page of the book, so God only knows if I’ve spelled his name correctly.


I’ll give you an overview of what can only optimistically be called the “plot”, in case you’ve not read the book (good for you!) or you have and you’ve forgotten (or repressed) what happened.


God I was really planning to be nice in this review, I’m sorry.

This is just a random image of Space to keep you entertained. God I wish this book would have had pictures. I listened to the audiobook, but still.


Anyway, what happens is Kira accidentally touches some space dust that turns out to be ancient alien nanotechnology that covers her in a protective, but aggressive skin-tight suit that accidentally kills her team mates and her boyfriend, Allan. She then gets taken into custody by a special division of the military who do some experiments, but then the ship is attacked by the Wranaui, or “Jellies” as they are more commonly referred to. The Jellies are pissed that the “Soft Blade” – Kira’s nanosuit – has been activated, and also about the creation of a corrupted being called “the Maw” that floats through space and is evil? Anyway Kira accidentally created it with her suit, and the Jellies have started a war with humanity for the above reasons and it’s all real bad.


Kira escapes and finds herself rescued by a smuggler ship called “The Wallfish”. On this ship (I just accidentally typed “shit” instead of ship – and that’s fair) she meets a host of characters, none of whom are relevant enough to be mentioned in the synopsis on Wikipedia.




Kira has a Vision!


In her dreams, her suit shows her images of “The Staff of Blue”, a cool ancient relic that could somehow stop the Jellies and end the war. How? Kira doesn’t know, she never finds out, and so we never know either. Why?


Because when they get to the Staff, it turns out to be broken.

I found this picture by searching for "black hole"- something I wish could have swallowed me up somewhere halfway through this book.

Unfortunately, at this point the book is still not over. We're only about halfway through and nothing of interest has happened yet.

On the planet they were supposed to find the Staff of Blue, they instead get saved by a rebel faction of the Jellies. They propose a partnership, in order to kill the real bad guy. The great and Mighty Ctein is the long-reigning emperor of the Wranaui who only now gets mentioned for the first time. He‘s the real bad guy, I swear! (He’s not).


Anyway, the humans have to be the ones to kill Ctein, as the Jellies have been programmed to be unable to kill their leader.


Did I mention that Kira has learned to use her suit as a weapon at this point? But also maybe it was meant to create life instead. Anyway, moving on…


There’s a bunch of fighting and then they kill Ctein. I tried to be happy but I knew full well that I still had several hours to go in the book.


So Ctein’s dead, which no one cares about because he was the main antagonist for approximately 0.2 seconds. The real problem is the Maw!! The what, you ask? Remember the bad thing Kira created at the start of the book? I sure didn’t, but it’s back and it’s bad.


Also somewhere in there Kira loses an arm but she’s so cool about it that it also didn’t make it into the Wikipedia synopsis.


Kira manages to subdue the Maw by being Good and Nice at it, and she stops all the bad aliens. She merges with the Maw, turning herself into a spaceship (??), only to reveal at the very end that actually the Maw had also created 7 horcruxes somewhere along the way so she has to go kill those, presumably in a sequel.

Are you still with me? Yeah, no. Didn't think so.

Please save me. This book is legitimately 900 pages long and I don't deserve this.

Honestly, I hesitate to call the story in this book a “plot”. Paolini seems to make an attempt at giving the novel a plot a couple of times, but it never really develops into something with – you know – a beginning, a middle, and an end.


Let’s look at the plots in this book, shall we?


Let me warn you first: this books starts with hours of set up. HOURS.

Plot 1: The Staff of Blue, or: the Plot without a middle

This is where I thought the real plot began, and I was both relieved and hesitant. “The Staff of Blue” has very strong fantasy connotations. The magical artefact that will end the war is something you may accept in a fantasy story (though even then, you’d probably appreciate some explanation as to how it’s going to end the war), but in Sci-Fi…? As far as I’m concerned, the strength of Science Fiction lies in the explanations of why things work a certain way, which may differ from what we are used to. Still, you expect there to be an internal consistency.


Anyway, none of it matters because the Staff of Blue was a red herring all along! Explain to me why a 900 page book needs to spend like a 100 pages on a plot that doesn’t go anywhere? As far as I’m concerned, this whole storyline could have been scrapped.


This plot doesn’t have a middle: Kira has a vision of the Staff of Blue, and they find it. There’s no real journey to find it. They just travel to the planet where the Staff is, and then the story ends because the staff is broken. No middle.

Plot 2: Ctein, or: the plot with no beginning

Having freshly detangled ourselves from the disappointment of the Staff of Blue plot, we’re thrown head-first into a new storyline. All I remember about this part of the book is lots of exposition about Ctein (obviously, this is the first we’ve heard of him and he’s the big bad now, so…).


This storyline has no beginning. We get no build up towards Ctein being the villain, we’re just thrown into the middle of a power struggle with no personal vendetta against the bad guy. No start.

Plot 3: The... Maw??, or: the plot without an end

This one is very simple. The last plotline literally doesn’t even end. When we leave Kira, she still has to travel through space to track down the Maw’s 7 Horcruxes. It literally doesn’t end! This book is 900 pages long, are you serious??? It’s not even set up as there being potential for a sequel, it’s set up as “this story isn’t finished but at this point we can literally fit no more pages into this book”.


Do you know how robbed I felt? After 30 hours of my life, to have any kind of satisfying ending be withheld from me? I would have listened for up to 2 more hours for a good ending. TWO MORE HOURS. I deserved it. And he just… shoved it in my face.

Something good! - The characters

One of the strong points of this book were the characters. I really could have liked them, if it weren’t for the fact that the book is so long-winded that every scene that wasn’t directly related to the plot wound me up to no end.


Trigg is that cute happy-go-lucky character you really like, except he spends most of the novel being incapacitated. By the point when he comes back to consciousness, I had reached the point that I found everything that was happening annoying. Including Trigg.


Now Falconi had potential! It’s very clear from the beginning that he and Kira are gonna have a thing and I was dreading it from his very introduction. It was awful for all the wrong reasons, though! I thought Kira was gonna feel super guilty towards Allan, but she’s over it at that point! So was I, to be fair, but I wasn’t engaged to him.

Anyway, the real reason it was awful had more to do with them getting it on but Kira also wearing a skin tight nanosuit that she couldn’t remove. Luckily she figured out a way just in time for them to bang. Ugh.


Greg was the only really interesting character in this book and he knew it.


As the “shipmind”, a person who has lost their body to become one with a ship, he had some really interesting scenes. Especially when he was the only one who was unwilling to sacrifice his life to, like, save the galaxy or something (it happens in one of the plots, I don’t remember which one, though). Of course, the things that I think are a really big deal constantly get fully glossed over in this book, so they just force him to do it and move on. No but for real – they don’t give him a choice.


These are the good guys, did I mention that?

What would I have done?

To fix this novel, I would have turned it into three books.

Book one:

The way I see it, the first book is about Kira getting the suit, her confrontation with the military and her ending up on the Wallfish and winning over it’s crew. Throughout all of this, Allan would be alive. Kira isn’t a scientist, but she’s a soldier. Or maybe she’s a scientist who’s in the military – at least something that explains her being so cool under pressure all the time. Also maybe she isn’t so cool under pressure the entire time. Can you imagine?


The Jellies have been alerted by Kira awakening the suit, and they see it as an act of war.


The book ends with a confrontation with the Jellies and in her attempt to fight them off, Kira inadvertently lashes out, killing Allan in the process.

Book two:

Kira has ideas about how to stop the Jellies based on something she’s seen in a vision – why not. However, instead of her seeing some ancient artefact and assuming it will fix everything, she pieces things together. Somehow – perhaps because of her scientific expertise, mixed with things she’s seen in visions – she thinks of a way that they could stop the Jellies.


So book two is all about them trying this plan of Kira’s, and in the end it fails. However, they meet this rebel faction of the Jellies, who explain that the majority of the Jellies have been corrupted by the Maw, and they have to stop it with the power of friendship or whatever.

Book three:

Book three is all about the struggle against the Maw. Kira finally comes face to face with the Maw, and she is horrified to see that the monster was her fiancé Allan all along. When she lashed out and killed him in book one, she corrupted him with her suit and turned him into a monster.


Kira eventually chooses to merge with the Maw, and subdue the corruption with her Soft Blade magic. There’s a touching scene as she reunites with Allan, and Kira realises that she can release Allan if she lets herself be absorbed by the Soft Blade. Kira knows there always needs to be someone there to prevent the Maw from corrupting again, but she can let Allan go. She, herself, can never return to living a normal life, but he can.


Look: Christopher Paolini can definitely write. I think the main reason I found this book so frustrating was that it had so much potential, but got dragged down by its convoluted story arc. That’s why I didn’t want to just trash it in a review (though I’m not sure how well I’ve succeeded at that) but to actually focus on how I would have changed the book to highlight what’s good about it instead (once again, not sure how well I’ve done with that).


I just… feel like Paolini needs a really obnoxious editor.


(Chris, buddy, I’m available)


So, will I ever read a Paolini book again? Honestly… probably? He just has such potential and I’m sure one day he will live up to it. But maybe I’ll read some reviews first.


Also they’re making a movie?????

What did you think about to Sleep in a sea of Stars? Was any of this recognisable to you? We'd love to hear it on any of our social media channels! Please, tell me I'm not crazy here.

Share this post: