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The Sparrow #2

Children of God

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Mary Doria Russell's debut novel, The Sparrow, took us on a journey to a distant planet and into the center of the human soul. A critically acclaimed bestseller, The Sparrow was chosen as one of Entertainment Weekly's Ten Best Books of the Year, a finalist for the Book-of-the-Month Club's First Fiction Prize and the winner of the James M. Tiptree Memorial Award. Now, in Children of God, Russell further establishes herself as one of the most innovative, entertaining and philosophically provocative novelists writing today.

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...

451 pages, Paperback

First published March 1, 1998

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About the author

Mary Doria Russell

18 books2,988 followers
Mary Doria Russell is an American author. She was born in 1950 in the suburbs of Chicago. Her parents were both in the military; her father was a Marine Corps drill sergeant, and her mother was a Navy nurse.

She holds a Ph.D. in Paleoanthropology from the University of Michigan, and has also studied cultural anthropology at the University of Illinois, and social anthropology at Northeastern University in Boston. Russell lives in Cleveland, Ohio with her husband Don and their two dogs.

Mary is shy about online stuff like Goodreads, but she responds to all email, and would prefer to do that through her website.

Photo by Jeff Rooks

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Displaying 1 - 30 of 1,927 reviews
Profile Image for Emily (Books with Emily Fox).
531 reviews58.6k followers
April 15, 2021
I wasn't sure I was going to read this book as the first one does stand on its own pretty well and I was afraid this one would taint my memory of the story.

The ending was great, the beginning was good but the middle... was quite long. If you want the ending of Emilio's story, this might be worth a read (although be prepare for more sadness!).
Profile Image for Candi.
614 reviews4,641 followers
May 3, 2018
"Everything we thought we understood—that was what we were most wrong about."

This novel is the stunning sequel to The Sparrow, a book that left me breathless and yearning for more after the last page. Children of God made no less of an impact on me. It is a must-read for anyone that has read and enjoyed the first in the duology. I would highly suggest reading these in order as the one really does follow immediately on the heels of the other.

The Sparrow was a story of a first contact conducted by a Jesuit mission to the planet Rakhat. "First contact—by definition—takes place in a state of radical ignorance, where nothing is known about the ecology, biology, languages, culture and economy of the Other. On Rakhat, that ignorance proved catastrophic." Both stories are termed ‘science fiction’ but both go deeper than just an exploration of the frontiers of space. They are journeys of faith, morality, and the influence of time on the shaping and perception of events. The author, Mary Doria Russell, does not ‘preach’ to the reader. Rather, we are given a slate on which to draw our own conclusions; there are many opportunities to question and reflect upon the events in this story and how they relate to humankind in general. This is the type of science fiction I am finding I truly love. The author’s own words offer the best description of the main theme of this novel: "Children of God is about the aftermath of irreversible tragedy, about the many ways that we struggle to make sense of tragedy. It’s about the stories we tell ourselves, and the ways we justify our decisions, to bring ourselves to some kind of peace. And I guess it’s about the way time reveals significance, strips away self-serving excuses, lays truth bare, and both blunts pain and sharpens insight." It is brilliantly written and often very profound. It is not a book that you will breeze through – you will want to stop and think, gather your thoughts, and wonder how you would react in these circumstances. My emotions seesawed constantly throughout this book!

I realize I’m being fairly vague about the plot here. I simply don’t want to spoil anything from the first book by recounting the happenings in this one. I can say that it also a novel about what it means to be oppressed versus an oppressor and how the tables can be turned. We learn further about the species that inhabit Rakhat – the Runa and Jana’ata. What the effect of introducing a new species (that of homo sapiens) to the planet will have on the balance of power. Much of this will have a familiar ring to it from our own world history. It may bring to mind revolutions, such as that of the French and the Russian, as well as the settling of North America and the displacement of the Native Americans. The question as to whether the ends justify the means will recur in the book and in your own thoughts. Ultimately, it causes one to understand that we are all part of this world (or this universe) and that each serves a purpose, each life has meaning, all are dependent on one another in some way, shape or form.

I highly recommend reading both books. Don't let the genre scare you away, or you will be missing out on some truly thought-provoking writing, some extremely nuanced characters, and excellent dialogue.


I cannot find my way: there is no star
In all the shrouded heavens anywhere;
And there is not a whisper in the air
Of any living voice but one so far
That I can hear it only as a bar
Of lost, imperial music, played when fair
And angel fingers wove, and unaware,
Dead leaves to garlands where no roses are.

No, there is not a glimmer, nor a call,
For one that welcomes, welcomes when he fears,
The black and awful chaos of the night;
For through it all – above, beyond it all –
I know the far-sent message of the years,
I feel the coming glory of the Light.

~Edwin Arlington Robinson, 1897
Profile Image for Phrynne.
3,225 reviews2,054 followers
December 14, 2017
I am so glad I only waited a month between reading parts one and two of this book. It really is just one book split into two parts and I could not leave Emilio for too long suffering the way he was at the end of part one.

Emilio Sandoz is one of those book characters who jumps off the page and out of the book. Whenever he is not front and centre of the story it lacks a certain something. Even the characters in the book notice when he is not in the room. He loses so much and suffers so much that at times I wondered how the author was going to finish him off. I can't say much without spoilers but let's say she still had something up her sleeve and I was perfectly content with the last few pages.

Many of the other characters are memorable too. I loved all of the Jesuit priests with their sardonic humour and their less than perfect attitudes always disguising their real love of humanity and their work. Isaac was a wonderful character too, a child and then a man with high functioning autism who is accepted totally into the society he lives in. His reactions to the world around him are explained beautifully, and make sense of his autistic behaviours.

I enjoyed the space travel with all its boredom for the travellers and its occasional real dangers. I loved the planet and its unusual dwellers. I was happy to see loose ends being tied up all over the place. In fact I loved it all.

A great book following another great book. So happy I read them both:)
Profile Image for Brooke.
537 reviews292 followers
February 11, 2009
I was expecting this to knock me off my feet the way The Sparrow did, but it was such a letdown of a sequel.

I didn't connect with anyone the way I completely fell in love with all the characters in The Sparrow. Sean Fein, Danny Iron Horse, Joseba Urizarbarrena - they were all completely interchangeable. I couldn't tell you who did what or who had which characteristics. There was an overweight pilot as well, and I'm not sure why he was in the book at all except for the ship to have a pilot.

I didn't buy the reasons for sending Emilio back to Rakhat. None of them held up under scrutiny, and nothing happened on Rakhat after his return that absolutely required his presence. It all seemed like a bunch of faux-concern for Emilio's soul just so Russell could write another book.

There were far too many scenes from the VaRahkati point of view, and dear lord did they drag on. So much time was spent going over the specifics of their civil war; for some reason Russell decided to place a conversation between Danny Iron Horse and a Runao before they actually arrived on Rakhat so that she could squeeze in an explanation of 20 years' worth of change that had occurred on Rakhat. The Sparrow was about a man's spiritual journey, and that was lost in the sequel's massive focus on the VaRakhati war.

Finally, it was just really unnecessary. The Sparrow was emotionally brutal and that's part of what made it so impressive. This sequel neuters that brutality, and while it's nice seeing Emilio having some happy moments, The Sparrow made sense as it was - it told a story in a way that it needed to be told.
This entire review has been hidden because of spoilers.
Profile Image for Katie.
268 reviews335 followers
June 26, 2019
I loved The Sparrow and when I finished it there wasn't anything else I wanted to know - a mark of a good novel. So it wasn't a novel that called out for a sequel. One of the big strengths of the first book was its fabulous characters. Almost the opposite was the case here. We get the same trip on a spaceship - brilliantly tense in the first book, repetitively dull in this book - but this time there are no women and the men are all either obnoxious or indistinguishable. Also, it came across as heavy handed and sentimental how she eventually sought to make everyone likeable.

And there was too much theologising for me. And too much forcing of parallels with the two alien races with the plight of Jews and North American Indians.

And I didn't like the structure of sometimes jumping forward in time which seemed clumsy to me.

And I was often confused what was going on among the aliens. For example, when an army appears with artillery. What artillery? There had been no mention in either book of weapons before. Unless I missed it. But I often found I was unable to picture what she was telling me. There were very good bits but there were also very dull bits. So, a bridge too far for me.
Profile Image for carol..
1,537 reviews7,877 followers
April 1, 2012
Epic. Read it shortly after reading The Sparrow, and I'm glad that I read both together. Although it might stand alone, some of the characters are the same, and the story firmly builds upon experiences and events in The Sparrow.

Didn't rate it 5 stars for a couple of reasons. One, occasionally Russell has the habit of dropping non-plot vital but important information in the space of a sentence, so if you tend to skim or even if your attention wanders, comprehension will suffer. An example would be along the lines of "It was many years into her widowhood when..." lets you know that the husband in the prior paragraph died. She actually does this again with one of the most pivotal characters, Second, because the scope of the story covered decades, not just years, time was treated in a very disjointed fashion, moving very slowly in the beginning, and then jumping through the years at the end. I got a little of the sense of, "let's just wrap this up now, shall we?" from the narrative.

Barring those two complaints, it is a beautifully written book, with multidimensional characters. Despite the detail and complexity of the plot line, it is a mediation on religion, race and forgiveness, so it satisfies on many levels. I felt it deftly avoided preaching, while perhaps echoing a Socratic dialogue at times. The ending was genuinely a surprise. Incidentally, one of the few books that's made me cry.
Profile Image for Bradley.
Author 6 books3,975 followers
July 6, 2018
In many ways, this novel rivals the scope of The Sparrow in both worldbuilding and theme. By the same token, both are portrayed in a much more dilute fashion.

This is not a bad thing, but it is a different thing when comparing the two. I loved The Sparrow's tight focus on faith and the loss of it and the general healing or the swift decline. Death came fast and suffering was slow.

Children of God added many new dimensions to the tale. Many characters from either alien species and humans had their time as PoVs. Emilio is still a major character, but not necessarily the Main Character. Sophia and her son Issac have a lot of screen time. As do the once-pacifistic vegetarians on the alien world and the meat eaters. Do we need to get into that little feature? Maybe, maybe not, but let's put it this way... Soylent Green is People.

Where does forgiveness reside? Can it even have a place in the discussion where the meek are constantly preyed upon and the arrogant constantly get away with it? Is this a novel about our own world? Actually, yes and no. The alien society is writ large for us, but better than that, it's delightfully complex.

Russell does a great job juggling all these issues and as a cohesive whole of a novel, I'm surprised and delighted by how wise and multi-layered it develops. Emilio heals a bit of his heart but is eventually convinced to return. Sophia, in the meantime, wrangles up the meek and starts a revolution.

Everything else is gravy and nuance and a delight. :) There's nothing simple about this tale. In fact, between the two novels, it might be one of the most heart-wrenching alien tales I've read. So much better than, say, ET. ;) Little about faith, hate, understanding, and intelligent discourse touches that tale.

This one is for smart people.
Profile Image for Kara Babcock.
1,923 reviews1,258 followers
July 21, 2014
You know Alien ends with Ripley getting into the shuttle with Jones, fighting off the alien one last time, and consigning herself and Jones to a lonely trip home in stasis? And then in the sequel, she’s essentially drafted into accompanying another team back to the planet where they found the Alien eggs, and almost everyone dies again? No? Well, sorry for spoiling Alien and Aliens.

Anyway, Children of God is kind of like that. At the end of The Sparrow , Emilio Santos arrives home, sole survivor of the first expedition to Rakhat. He is psychologically and physically maimed thanks to gross cultural misunderstandings—the muscles in his palms have been removed, rendering his fingers almost useless, and he has been subject to rape and molestation at the hands of the Jana'ata nobility who kept them as their plaything. Emilio is hurt and resentful—towards the Church, towards God, and mostly towards himself. After about a year, Emilio is on the road to recovery. He starts working again, meets a love interest, and seems to be reconnecting to the world. But then he gets drafted to return to Rakhat, and it all goes wrong. Again.

Mary Doria Russell moved me deeply with The Sparrow. Her approach to first contact and interstellar exploration was a mixture of cultural anthropology and religious faith. The first mission is funded by the Jesuits, and throughout the story, questions of the role of religion, the Church, and God are prominent. With Emilio’s fate we are left to wonder with him why God would permit such a thing to happen. And all the while, the characters asking and precipitating these questions are complicated and three-dimensional, whether they are human or alien, priest or layperson. MDR’s touch is a subtle and deft one.

Truth be told, I was somewhat apprehensive about Children of God. Several of my Goodreads friends had commented on my review of The Sparrow advising me to read this book, even as they told me it wasn’t as good. Even if they hadn’t, The Sparrow is that type of standalone jewel that is almost always diminished by a sequel—why re-open old questions only to spoil them with answers?

MDR makes several very smart choices, however, that mitigate the damage to The Sparrow’s memory. For instance, she reveals that Sofia Mendes is still alive despite what Emilio and everyone else believed. Living among exile Runa now, Sofia gives birth to an autistic son, Isaac. MDR tells Sofia’s story in parallel with the story of how Emilio goes from recovering dependant of the Church to independent researcher to hostage of relativity. To these two perspectives MDR adds a third, visiting for a time various Runa and Jana'ata characters.

This proves to be a brilliant stroke of storytelling. Although I found these sections the most confusing (little bit of name soup going on), they were also very enlightening. I liked hearing Suupari’s side of the story of Emilio’s transition into prostitution, for example, and was glad to hear that Suupari was contrite. It would be blatantly inaccurate to say that MDR humanizes the Jana'ata, but she definitely provides us with the opportunity to empathize with their worldview.

Thanks to these choices, Children of God is a good story regardless of how it fulfils the role of sequel. Despite my apprehension, I eventually sunk comfortably into my role as reader and enjoyed the story. There is plenty of tragedy to be had here, especially for Emilio, but it is not as dark or unforgiving as The Sparrow was. Of course, that may or may not be an improvement depending on what one expects from these kind of novels. I admit it’s a little disappointing and makes Children of God feel a little more shallow—but then again, this book, unlike The Sparrow isn’t really about Emilio’s personal struggles any more.

The possibility of there being intelligent life, the suspense leading up to confirmation that the signals were actually coming from an alien species, was a huge part of The Sparrow. But as the opening part of Children of God makes clear, knowing that we are not alone hasn’t changed life on Earth all that much. MDR doesn’t spend too much time speculating why this is, leaving us to draw our own conclusions. I suspect the major reason is expense: numerous expeditions set off for Rakhat, but only two made it there intact, and of those two, Emilio is the only human who returned. Space travel is expensive and provides little in the way of return so far. Plus, with a sole survivor in the custody of the Jesuits, there is little in the way of information about Earth’s nearest neighbours. In this respect, the sequel shows us how merely discovering that we are not alone is not necessarily the life-changing event that we might expect it to be.

The same cannot be said for humanity’s influence on the Rakhat. Stumbling in where we are not invited, we destabilize the tenuous predator–prey relationship between the Jana'ata and the Runa. By the time Emilio and the second Jesuit expedition arrive, the Jana'ata are almost extinct and the Runa are free. Just by existing and exposing the Runa and the Jana'ata to our peculiar cultures and beliefs, we caused massive change. Is it for the better? Even making that distinction assumes that the way we, as humans, define better is relevant to life on Rakhat. Again, MDR doesn’t necessarily spend too much time on this point, but issues of cultural relativism and ethnocentrism are implicit in the relationship between humans, Jana'ata, and Runa. Recall, too, that this is the result of a handful of human representatives visiting Rakhat, none of them representatives of any government other than the Vatican—and even then, only loosely.

Children of God certainly provides interesting food for thought, and I thoroughly enjoyed revisiting Rakhat. We learn more about the Runa and Jana'ata in this book; their cultures are not as confusing or as alien any more. And by far, the best part of the book is Celestine. Precocious child characters usually annoy me, but Celestine captured my heart and wouldn’t let it go. The involuntary separation of Emilio from Gina and Celestine is one of the more brutal acts in this book.

It’s obvious that there’s no contest between this book and its predecessor. The Sparrow stands alone as an amazing work of science fiction, one that demands an examination of faith and empathy and science against the backdrop of contact tragedy. Children of God is more like DLC than a sequel—a little more content, a few extra missions with familiar characters that flesh out the storyline of the original game without taking too many risks themselves. It’s fun while it lasts, but it does not have the same staying power as the original. And that’s the perfectly fine, considering what it’s up against in that comparison.

Creative Commons BY-NC License
This entire review has been hidden because of spoilers.
Profile Image for Patrick.
233 reviews18 followers
September 22, 2007
The sequel to The Sparrow. Once again, the author does a tremendous job in both introducing new social, political, and cultural concepts on almost every page for both the human and alien species she writes about, which makes the story very compelling for the reader. As the story progresses the author creates a nearly intractable problem of species genocide that she resolves near the end in a manner that completely surprised me, but which makes a lot of sense once one considers the backgrounds of the human characters she sends forth on this second mission to the discovered planet.

Two quick thoughts for any readers out there who have not yet had the pleasure of reading either of these wonderful books...

I consider theese to be two parts of one long story, even though it appears that the author didn't plan a sequel when she write The Sparrow. A reader would be best served by reading both, of course, to get the most insight.

Secondly - since the books' story consists of the outcome of a manned mission to another planet, one who has not read these books may immediately consider these to simply be science fiction, as I did when my friend Alex suggested that we read The Sparrow. But these books turned out to be so much more that that. There are very few books of fiction that I have read that gave me quite so much insight into the complexity of how we act and interact as human beings, for all the good and bad that comes with that as we try to create our future. These are classic books, and I would hope that they are well read for many years to come.
Profile Image for Melanie.
273 reviews132 followers
April 15, 2018
I loved this but then I expected no less since I felt the same about it's predecessor, The Sparrow. This book picks up right where The Sparrow left off. In my opinion neither of these books are easy reads, by that I mean something I could whiz through. Part of it is the time lines taking place, part is the completely foreign names and culture. I only wish I had read this shortly after The Sparrow although the author does remind you of what happened previously.

I am going to sum up this book by quoting the author. At the end of my edition there a Q &A with her. The question: "Is there a moral to this story?"

Her answer: "Don't be so damned quick to judge! The less we know about someone, the easier we find it to make a snap decision, to condemn or sneer or believe the worst. The closer you get, the more you know about the person or the situation in question, the harder it gets to be sure of your opinion, so remember that, and try to cut people a little slack. Like Emilio says, ""Everything we thought we understood-that was what we were most wrong about."" So the moral of the story is to be suspicious of your own certainty. Doubt is good."

Good words to live by. If you haven't had the pleasure of reading these books, I highly recommend them. Would be great book club reads.
Profile Image for Petra.
1,123 reviews12 followers
April 22, 2018
This is not a stand-alone book. The Sparrow is essential to have read. Without that background story, Children of God would be confusing at times.
This was a seamless continuation of The Sparrow and really can be considered one book. The story picks up where The Sparrow left off.
Woven throughout this work is the concept of Faith in God, self, others. How one's faith in one's present can influence one's future.
Morality is also a prevalent theme. Decisions affect others besides ourselves.
This story is a bit confusing in the aspect of time-line. Mary Doria Russell does a good job in showing the relativity of space travel but it sometimes gets confusing in perspective of the story. Does the previous section happen before, during or after the story section we're now reading? It takes a bit of going back, checking dates, etc.
This story isn't as perfect as The Sparrow. I had some doubts along the way, which didn't happen in the first. But it's still a brilliant story.
I don't want to give any of the story away. This is a difficult review to write because of that. Children of God has a very thought provoking story and is a perfect continuation of The Sparrow. I recommend it.
Profile Image for Tom Mathews.
662 reviews
July 2, 2016
The first book in this duology, The Sparrow, stands at the top of my list of favorite books read in the past decade. I strongly recommend that readers read Sparrow first as Children of God is a continuation of that story and will make little sense without the background provided in the Sparrow.

The Sparrow tells the story of Earth's first contact with alien races and, with a sociologist's eye, the impact that a meeting between two entirely different cultures have upon each other. A facetious example might be if one culture considered a swift kick in the ass as a polite greeting coming into contact with one that does not. Children of God tells the story of Emilio Sandoz' second trip to Rahkat and focuses more on the impact that the first visit had on that planet's civilization in the years since he first departed the planet.

This was a good book but imho it was not as good as the Sparrow. Part of the problem may be that the story skipped around in place and time which can be very confusing when listening to an audiobook. Another part of the problem may be that while the ideas shared in The Sparrow were original and fascinating to consider, the impact of human explorers on indigenous cultures is all too familiar.

Bottom line: Mary Doria Russell is still one of the few authors on my if-they-write-it-I-will-buy-it list. I encourage readers to read all of her books, including this one. I just don't think this is her best effort.
Profile Image for Charlotte Kersten.
Author 3 books433 followers
November 4, 2022
“We are biologically driven to create meaning. And if that’s so, he asked himself, is the miracle diminished?”

CW: body horror, kidnapping, rape, genocide

So What’s It About?

Mary Doria Russell's debut novel, The Sparrow, took us on a journey to a distant planet and into the center of the human soul. A critically acclaimed bestseller, The Sparrow was chosen as one of Entertainment Weekly's Ten Best Books of the Year, a finalist for the Book-of-the-Month Club's First Fiction Prize and the winner of the James M. Tiptree Memorial Award. Now, in Children of God, Russell further establishes herself as one of the most innovative, entertaining and philosophically provocative novelists writing today.

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.

What I Thought

Unfortunately, I liked this much less than The Sparrow. There is still a lot of tremendous reflection on religion and suffering, but the cast of characters is much less well-developed, the time and narrative jumps are too abrupt, and it feels like a much less successful, cohesive work overall.

I have a lot to say about that fundamental question about religion and suffering. This book’s most basic theme is that human nature is designed to make meaning of senseless chaos - is that what God is? Is that what Isaac’s music is? There are a number of other compelling questions that arise on this topic - whose suffering do you get to make meaning of - your own, others’, the suffering you caused? And how do we draw a line between making meaning of suffering and saying that the ends justify the means? How much do intentions matter when the results of given actions are harmful? There are so many examples of character struggling with these questions, from Emilio reflecting on how the crew of the first mission to Rakhat caused such massive effects to the parents of those first slaughtered Runa children deciding to revolt, Sofia in her revolutionary leadership, the Runa with their near-genocide of the Jana’ata, Guiliani, the Pope, and Danny Iron Horse making excuses to placate themselves for what they did to Emilio…in so many ways, these characters all struggle to make meaning of their suffering/the suffering of others or struggle with ends, means and justifications or with questions of harm and the importance of intentions. I think the book’s basic point is that, good or bad, these are all fundamental, natural human instincts that we all have to grapple with.

Especially in Emilio’s story, so many people tell him to make some kind of meaning from what happened to him and find a way to “redeem” it, but it’s clear that this just isn’t a process that anyone else can impose upon you. Emilio kinds some kind of resolution and peace in his own way and his own time, not in the ways or time period that others expect of him. I did really like the ending of his story where he meets his daughter and grandchild - goodness knows that he deserves peace after all that he has been through.

His characterization is still strong -I really think he’s a fantastic character - but this is less true of almost everyone else. During the many time jumps and perspective changes during the war, we are introduced to many Jana’ata and Runa characters who play their part in the story and then get abruptly dropped again, sometimes never to be seen again. The new human cast also doesn’t make too much of an impression, specifically the crew of the second expedition to Rakhat. Joseba, Danny Iron Horse and Sean Fein were very hard for me to distinguish from each other personality and backstory-wise.

I think that the time jumps and perspective changes come with the territory of writing a story of such huge scope over a long period of time, and I do think it could be a lot worse than it is. There are definitely some effective and interesting elements to the war, especially the way that Sofia is unable to see that her revolution has turned to injustice until she meets Emilio again - another major theme of these books is definitely that it is so easy to believe that those you oppress are simply inherently less “human” (for lack of a better term) than you are. The Jana’ata commodified the Runa; in their revolt, the Runa then do the same to the remaining Jana’ata and nearly complete a genocide against them. Another of the most interesting aspects of the war is the small group of Jana’ata who turn away from eating Runa to survive and consequently struggle to survive.

There are a few elements of representation that left me raising my eyebrows, such as the way that the only Native American character is put in charge of the Jana’ata reservations (admittedly, with the justification that he will know the flaws and pitfalls to avoid better than anyone else) and the depiction of Isaac’s autism that feels (and has been identified by other readers as) dehumanizing. Finally, there is the major issue I brought up at the end of my review of The Sparrow regarding Russell’s seemingly apologist statements about North America’s colonization and writing these books with the intention of creating a narrative more sympathetic to missionaries/colonists than most current narratives are.

I wouldn’t know where to start in writing a sequel to a book like The Sparrow, and I think that Russell did as well as could be expected with such a daunting task. But the narrative jumps and characterization were much more problematic here in my opinion, and the final result was nowhere as good as the first book overall. I’m still very glad that I read these books.
Profile Image for Sara.
Author 1 book488 followers
April 12, 2018
Mary Doria Russell’s sequel to The Sparrow is another thoughtful, thought-provoking book, well-crafted and dynamic. I felt immediately reconnected to the characters I had left behind far too long ago. If there were anything I would have had differently, it would have been to have read this book immediately after reading The Sparrow. They are so interconnected that they are almost the same book, seamlessly continued.

We find Emilio Sandoz where we left him, on earth and struggling with his relationship to God, his fellow man, the fate of those he has left on Rakhat and how to live a life devoid of the faith he has so long trusted and relied upon. If there is one theme that I believe recurs over and over again in these books, it is the theme of faith. How much of what happens to us is God’s doing, how much has purpose, how much is our failure to listen closely enough and understand God’s voice when he is speaking to us?

There is a moment toward the end of the book when one of the priests makes an observance that I believe sums up what we are meant to take away from this story:

“There’s a passage in Deuteronomy--God tells Moses, ‘No one can see My face, but I will protect you with My hand until I have passed by you, and then I will remove My hand and you will see My back.’ Remember that?

Emilio nodded, listening.

“Well, I always thought that was a physical metaphor,” John said, “but, you know--I wonder now if it isn’t really about time? Maybe that was God’s way of telling us that we can never know His intentions, but as time goes on...we’ll understand. We’ll see where He was: we’ll see His back.”

I had personally never thought about that passage in that way, so it had a profound impact upon me and I saw it immediately as the core truth, a tenet of faith. And, what can thrill more than to find a core truth in the pages of a book?

I will not expound on the story that is here, other than to say it is riveting and perhaps as allegorical as Pilgrim’s Progress without ever seeming to be so. I could relate so much of what happens to events we have seen time and again here on earth. I could feel the anguish and confusion of Sandoz, who has given wholly of himself and feels that God has rejected his offering. It is the feeling that sparked the hatred in Cain to kill Abel, it is the most basic of needs--to have our love returned, it is the thing that makes us human and can make us inhumane.

If you have not read The Sparrow, I cannot urge you strongly enough to do so. If you read The Sparrow, you will read Children of God. Who could leave Sandoz without knowing his fate?
This entire review has been hidden because of spoilers.
September 2, 2012
Always and always love a book that brings all the human emotions to the forefront. As we continue the journey to discovery, we are marred, enlightened, ennobled, and most of all touched by the things that make a life human. We are also, as foretold in this novel, made better by the things we do not yet know, the races we have not yet met, and the horrors we might not yet understand.

This novel plus the one that came before it, is a thinking person's book. It makes you question, to wonder, to begin to note that it is not only humans who might be among us and if they are, then why could it not be possible for them to be exactly like us and yet so different too? Where and what are the things that raise us up? Is it a belief in a higher power or is it the power within each of us that makes life worthwhile and something always valuable and while not always good and oftentimes evil, might not this spirit in and of itself be divine?

Suffice to say that this is a book that has so many facets it would be impossible to cover them all without rewriting the entire book and then some. If you are in need of a book that will have you questioning and perhaps eventually even liking what we are a a people, than this book might head you down a direction that is both philosophical and deeply moving. I only wish there was another book in this series as I feel that I am not done with Emilio and his journey or perhaps he is not yet done with me.
Profile Image for A. Raca.
729 reviews150 followers
June 21, 2020
İlk kitap Serçe'yi çok beğenmiştim. Arayı uzatmadan okuyalım, Sandoz neler yaşamış dedik. Ama beklenenin altında kaldı ne yazık ki. Belki de Serçe çıtayı çok yükseltmişti.
Yazar kararsızlıklarını karakterlere yüklemiş. Bol bol iç hesaplaşma var.
Aslında bazı bölümler olmasa yine devamı niteliğinde daha derli toplu bir kitap çıkabilirmiş.

"İstediğim şey dışarıda değil, sadece yalnız olabileceğim bir yer."

"Tanrı asla açıklama yapmaz. Hayat kalbini kırdığında sadece parçaları toparlayıp baştan başlaman gerekiyor sanırım."

Profile Image for Wanda Pedersen.
1,864 reviews370 followers
May 16, 2021
I had a rough start with this book and had to set it aside and read something else for a while. When I returned, I found myself drawn right in to life on the planet of Rakhat in all its complexity. The right time to read it had arrived.

I found myself frequently thinking, “Oh, can I ever tell that the author is an anthropologist!” She weaves together so many aspects of human history and culture in this sequel to The Sparrow. Of course there is the whole religious aspect, with space travel being a project of the Jesuits, blessed by the Pope (who spent time in a refugee camp as a child fleeing Ethiopia). Sofia is still on Rakhat, adding her Jewish influence. Then there is the head of the Jesuits, Vincenzo Giuliani, who is closely related to the local Naples mafia, a link that becomes highly relevant to Emilio Sandoz. (And I finally figured out why the Jana'ata maimed Emilio's hands.)

Then, we have the two sentient species on Rakhat: the less numerous Jana'ata, the predatory species who rule; and the more numerous Runa, who are vegetarian, and are both servants and food source to their rulers. I think there were intentional parallels drawn to the concentration camps of WWII, with some Runa being loyally complicit with their Jana'ata owners, even in the face of whole scale culling of their people. Not to mention Runa servants being sent to the market to buy pieces of their species to feed their overlords.

So, these aliens are very different than humans and there are misunderstandings galore, as all three types of beings make assumptions that get them into trouble. Yet they are motivated by some of the same things: love of family, desire to run their own lives, loyalty, even beauty, of music for example.
The ending I thought was lovely, bringing a tear to my eye. (And I was happy to see that a suspicion of mine turned out to be true.) Not happily ever after, which wouldn't have been realistic, but happy as possible.

Book number 386 of my Science Fiction & Fantasy Reading Project.

Cross posted at my blog:

Profile Image for David.
865 reviews1,305 followers
March 19, 2010
"The Sparrow" is a hard act to follow, and Russell doesn't quite match the brilliance of the earlier book in this sequel. Her evident desire to tie up all the loose ends and leave no one unaccounted for is a distinct handicap, as some parts of the book are too obviously there for that purpose only. Just as she did in the first book, Russell takes on the big questions of spirituality, morality, the challenge to faith posed by an apparently capricious God, against a backdrop of extreme psychological upheaval (in Emilio's case) and the cataclysmic social and political changes triggered by the earlier mission to Rakhat.

She does a better job than I had anticipated, but the inherent predictability of certain story arcs dooms the sequel to be less exciting than the original. It doesn't help that the crew members on the return trip are considerably less interesting than the original gang. I'll forgive her the hokiness of the plot device used to get Emilio on an outbound vessel for a second time. But a major reason that "Children of God" is less compelling than "The Sparrow" is that Emilio is really the only character worth caring about, and his ultimate fate, though emotionally satisfying, is entirely predictable

(Spoiler: His return visit to Rakhat allows him to realize a certain capacity for forgiveness, which gives him a degree of peace.
Which of course gives nothing away - given that she went to the trouble of writing a second book so as not to leave us with the brutal image of Emilio tortured and despairing, there's no other possible outcome for the second book.)

Though it doesn't match the brilliance of "The Sparrow", it's still well worth reading - Russell is still smart, thought-provoking and well able to tell a good story, skillfully and with finesse.
Profile Image for Jacob Appel.
Author 38 books1,584 followers
September 3, 2020
I confess I was initially braced to be disappointed in Children of God -- partly because I am generally suspicious of sequels and also because the first novel in the sequence, The Sparrow, although brilliant, ran far afield from my usual interest in canonical literature. But Russell once again exceeded expectations, winning me over with his careful and innovative prose, her impressive erudition, and her gift for telling an old-fashioned compelling story.

The Story picks up as Jesuit space-traveler Emilio Sandoz recovers on Earth after an ill-fated voyage to the planet Rakhat. Without summarizing the plot, which is already well-captured in many other reviews, I will emphasize that the story-line never feels forced, as sequels often do, and that either the author planned the second volume while writing the first or proved adept at re-imagining events from the first novel to weave into the second. For instance, Sandoz intervenes to help a family of African refugees early in his career (in novel one); when he returns to Earth many years later (in novel two), one of those refugees has been elected Pope.

The novel is peppered with wisdom, philosophical morsels that are easy to read through, but also offer a basis for reflection when read closely, such as:

"I always thought it was a tactical mistake for God to love us in the aggregate, when Satan is willing to make a special effort to seduce each of us separately."

"If anything could prove the existence of the soul...it was the utter emptiness of a corpse."

Or even the Runa proverb that rain falls on everyone but lightning only strikes a few.

(Spoiler: Reading this during a pandemic, the reference the the plague at the end of the volume was both prescient and unsettling.)

I am not sure if one can read this as a stand-alone novel, but for readers who enjoyed the Sparrow, this is a worthwhile second act. If anything, Russell's skills as a writer are even sharper in "Children of God" and her philosophical and theological inquires force a serious reader to reflect even more deeply.
This entire review has been hidden because of spoilers.
Profile Image for Mike (the Paladin).
3,145 reviews1,818 followers
July 17, 2018
I'm not sure I like the appellations "good or bad" for this book and its predecessor. It can't really be said (I don't believe) that these books are "enjoyable". Still, they are good and I recommend them highly. You may not want to "re-read" these as they are or can be somewaht painful in some ways if you identify with any of the characters. BUT, they will I believe touch you.

The topics dealt with here are ones that will I believe at least provoke thought. I can't say how they will hit each reader. There are ideas and thoughts that are (at least peripherially) looked at from an attempted Christian perspective. The main character is a Roman Catholic and his life is what it is due to his experiences in The Sparrow. I won't say Christians will find anything here that they haven't considered before, but they will find it discussed in a different vehicle.

I'm not sure it's correct to say I "liked"it, but I will say it's worthwhile.
Profile Image for Dawn F.
496 reviews64 followers
August 10, 2021
After a time, she smiled at her father and asked, ‘Would you like to hold your grandson?’
Kids and babies, he thought. Don’t do this to me again.
But there was no way to resist. He looked at this undreamed-of daughter and at her tiny child – frowning and milky in dreamless sleep – and found room in the crowded necropolis of his heart.

I have no words to describe how utterly enthralling and gorgeous Mary Doria Russell's prose is ;____;

I think the closest comparison I can make is to Ursula K Le Guin. Russell's writing is full of quietly reflection and contemplation, passionate debate, philosophical and moral complexity, and a very human cast that you sometimes hate but can't stop reading about. This and The Sparrow is one of the absolute best works of speculative SF with focus on culture, anthropology, society and religion, and yet it never feels preachy or indeed very partial. The characters are their own, and they're finding their own meaning in life. These books will stay with me forever.
Profile Image for El.
1,355 reviews503 followers
June 8, 2015
It's been a few days since I finished reading this book, which is unusual for me since normally I like to write my reviews immediately upon finishing. I needed a few days for this one. Partly because I've been terribly busy with life and work, but also because I almost didn't care enough to write a review. That sounds more harsh than I mean it to, but remember I also didn't care too much about The Sparrow (except that it actually made me fairly angry); this book made me less angry, but there were still annoyances.

What made The Sparrow so good, the reason that people return to time after time when they say they loved it, is that there is so much emotion behind the story. It is an emotional story, for regular people, I guess, whose hearts aren't all crispy fried inside. I could appreciate what the author was doing, but was so bugged by some of the other stuff that I couldn't get past.

Now come the spoiler-like-things, so tread carefully. Spoilers also relate to The Sparrow, so if you haven't read that one either, then you shouldn't read these:

I can't say I liked this any more or any less than The Sparrow. I think there was an emotional distance in this book that didn't exist in The Sparrow, but in both there were the occasional dip into melodrama (think soap opera) that would sometimes make me want to roll my eyes. I continued to find the philosophical/religious talks interesting, though I disagree with other readers that these books were not preachy. I felt The Sparrow was fine and non-preachy, but there was a different tone in Children of God that made me give a frustrated sigh once in a while.

I am glad to finally have read these books. I wish I had enjoyed them as much as everyone else; as previously stated, what worked for me really worked, and what didn't work for me really didn't work. I wouldn't discourage anyone from reading either (and Children of God has a fantastic first chapter or two that focus on getting readers up to speed in case you forgot anything since reading The Sparrow), but would definitely say that these books are not for everyone.
Profile Image for Fran.
48 reviews
December 30, 2008
The amazing sequel to The Sparrow, reviewed earlier (the one I have affectionately referred to as Jesuits in Space.) I won't give away how The Sparrow ended, but suffice it to say that I couldn't imagine a sequel being possible to write or bearable to read. Something convinced me to pick up Children of God, though, and it was just as intellectually fascinating, just as emotionally wrenching, just as exciting. A stay-up-all-night-reading book.
Profile Image for Joy D.
1,900 reviews219 followers
May 5, 2022
This book is the sequel to The Sparrow, which should definitely be read first. At the end of The Sparrow, Emilio has returned to earth, emotionally and physically shattered from his experiences on the planet Rakhat. He has turned away from God and is consumed with guilt. In Children of God, Emilio begins to heal but is “recruited” for another mission to Rakhat.

This book clears up several questions left at the end of The Sparrow. We learn more about the history of the planet and how human intervention changed it dramatically. Was it for the better? Well, that’s part of the enjoyment of the novel – figuring out if the human perspective is valid for a planet of alien life forms. We learn more about the cultures of the Runa and Jana'ata and find there is a blended community trying to work together. But there are also extremes at each end of the political spectrum, each trying to exterminate the other. These factions seem realistic and believable. There are quite a few large jumps in time, introducing new characters to provide context, which can get a little disorienting at times.

It is filled with thought-provoking topics – faith, compassion, ethics, cultural interference. I thoroughly enjoyed returning to Rakhat. I appreciate the thoroughness of the linguistic details of the languages, and the sociological analysis of the two alien species. It is certainly a more optimistic book than its predecessor. Taken together, this duology is quite an accomplishment.

17 reviews
August 11, 2014
This sequel to the wonderful 'The Sparrow' was not only a letdown, but obliterated the moral and spiritual themes of Russell's earlier novel. Whereas at the end of 'The Sparrow', you are left with the raw and often violent repercussions of first contact with new civilisations, 'Children of God' feels like an argument in favour of the Monroe Doctrine. Never mind that an entire species has almost been annhilated via a civil war. Never mind that the delicate ecology of a planet has been catastrophically changed. Never mind that all this has resulted from the Jesuits spiritual quest. We're apparently supposed to be happy that Sandoz has found peace???
I just found it all flawed, both plotwise and morally. I found the Sparrow posed a lot of questions around issues of belief and spirituality and Children of God, in trying to answer them, leaves the reader with a sense of moral bankruptcy.
The two stars are a nod to 'the Sparrow' and to Emilio Sandoz who is a great character.
This entire review has been hidden because of spoilers.
Profile Image for Stephen.
1,516 reviews11k followers
October 28, 2009
4.0 to 4.5 stars. Not quite as emotionally powerful (I should say devastating) as the Sparrow, the first book in the series which I highly recommend to everyone, this is an excellent sequel that brings the epic story of Emilo Sandoz to a very satisfying conclusion. While the basic plot can be described as a "first ontact" with an alien race, both books are really about how a person can keep faith in God when confronted with horrific events. It is the age old question "How could a loving God allow such horrible things to happen to good people." Highly recommended!!!

Nominee: Hugo Award Best Novel
Nominee: British Science Fiction Award
Nominee: Locus Award Best SF Novel (7th)
Profile Image for Sara T.
17 reviews1 follower
April 22, 2012
I didn't hate this book, but it was a bit of a letdown after The Sparrow. I really enjoy Russell's writing, so I had high hopes for this one. To be honest, though, it comes off like she was writing fanfiction about her own work. (Spoiler Alert) Like "Author's Note: This is a fic where Sofia actually didn't die and she lives on Rakhat and Emilio is going to get married then he gets kidnapped and taken back and there's like this huge ass war on Rakhat. Please R and R!"

I really admired Russell's non-linear style in book 1, but here she jumps around so much that it's honestly hard to determine what happened when.

The characters themselves don't exactly fit in with the characterization from The Sparrow. Sofia is the most problematic - in The Sparrow, she was a semi-devout Jew, at least devout enough to travel to Israel for a mikveh and she mentions at least once "the ashes of the six million." And she was a survivor of the "Second Kurdish War." In Children of God, she basically authors genocide. No joke. Given her background and apparent concern for the Holocaust, for this character to incite a war with a little 'final solution to the Jana'ata problem' on the side makes no logical sense. Despite Sofia's strong sympathy with the Runao, one would think that a Jewish character who had survived a war wouldn't, let's see now, behave exactly like Hitler. Unless this was some kind of very poorly rendered metaphor/life lesson of which I've missed the point entirely.

The idea that a handful of humans could cause such upheaval on Rakhat is rather blatant imperialism. Despite their professed politically correct sensitivity that all on Earth will have reached by the 2016, the characters from the Sparrow and Children of God have no respect for the Rakhati way of doing business (ie Jana'ata eating the Runao. The Runao are basically cool with this until the humans show up). The humans manipulate intelligent beings (capable of transmitting signals to Earth when Earth can't figure out how to transmit signals to them) into doing "World War II Except With Aliens" and completely reversing a society that has been established since time immemorial. Yeah.

And then...Heeeerrre they come to save the daaaaaayyyyy!!! Another Jesuit mission!! Emilio Sandoz who gets some kind of redemption or something! Reunited and it feels to good to play Simon Wiesenthal to Sofia "Himmler" Mendes. When those 'stupid aliens' epicfail and the Jana'ata are nearly extinct, the new crop of Jesuits fixes everything and everyone lives in peace and harmony, the end. And there's some kind of boring subplot with Sofia's autistic son. It doesn't have much to do with the book, aside from letting Russell's camera stay mostly on the humans.

Honestly, it's not a terrible book. If you loved The Sparrow, you might like Children of God. It's nice to catch up with the few characters that remain, and Russell does tie up all the loose plot threads neatly, if not satisfactorily.
Profile Image for Lisa Vegan.
2,761 reviews1,218 followers
March 15, 2009
I am so glad that Mary Doria Russell continued with the story from The Sparrow. I was so happy to see some of the characters from that book in this one. It’s my favorite kind of science fiction: character driven and thought provoking. This one had me sobbing at the end.

This is a fascinating study of human and other sentient being psychology and cultural and social anthropology, which is how I saw it what with my predilections, and because my personal philosophy differs from many of these characters and from most people, I did not see it as a story about G-d or religion. I do like that the author has converted to Judaism and I do like the references to Judaism in the book, a lot. It was particularly moving to read about this subject when the events are taking place on another planet with humans and two sentient species native to the foreign planet.

She writes very interesting characters although in this book I felt as though the plot got bogged down at a few points and it took me some time to warm up to many of the new characters. I felt impatient occasionally which did not happen with The Sparrow. I also feel outrage that (unless I missed it?) a certain character did not tell another something that would have been of great solace to him and that also would have also been better for the story, I think.

This book could work as a stand alone book but I wouldn’t recommend it for anyone who hasn’t read The Sparrow. I don’t think this book is as well crafted as The Sparrow but I can’t conceive of reading The Sparrow without finding how this story continues and what happens with the characters and their descendents. I now think of these two as one book.

As a vegan both these two Mary Doria Russell books gave me much “food for thought” and I think that was even more so with Children of God than it was with The Sparrow.

If I wasn’t reading this as a continuation of The Sparrow it would have probably received only 3 and maybe only 2 stars from me.
Profile Image for Book Concierge.
2,770 reviews332 followers
December 29, 2015
Audiobook performed by Anna Fields

In the sequel to Russell’s stellar The Sparrow , Father Emilio Sandoz has made significant progress in recovering from his injuries suffered on the first mission to the planet Rakhat. His body may be healed but his soul is still in turmoil, and the last thing he wants is to return to the place where all other members of the mission met their deaths. But then ….

Once again Russell gives us a morality play in a science fiction setting. I marvel at how richly imagined and intricately detailed the world of Rakhat and its inter-dependent species are. We learn what those first explorers – as well as the Runa and Jana’ata – misunderstood about these new cultures and how small mistakes led to devastating consequences. Russell shows that the influence of the humans, despite their original intention to merely observe, has drastically changed the natural balance that had existed and even led to civil war.

Even more than the first book, Russell plays with time and location, moving back and forth between Earth and Rakhat, between the “present” and the future. Time is relative, after all. This is a difficult technique to pull of and Russell does is marvelously well. However … there is one segment where she takes the characters into the future to have one of the Jana’ata explain what had happened when the humans were still traveling. This automatically lessens some of the suspense because we know the humans live. Was this done to give us hope? To reinforce the message that bad things can happen to good people? I found it jarring and felt I had missed something important until I recognized the jump in time.

This novel is also much more philosophical than her first book. The characters have significant conversations about their purpose and beliefs; they consider and are sometimes forced to listen to “the other side of the story,” changing their (and the reader’s) initial impressions of what has happened and why. And, as is suggested by the title, the story is very spiritual. I am reminded of the closing lines of John Gillespie Magee Jr’s poem High Flight
“And, while with silent lifting mind I've trod
The high untrespassed sanctity of space,
Put out my hand, and touched the face of God.

It’s a fascinating story, and gave me much to think about, so why not 5 stars? Somehow the novel lacked the impact of Russell’s first work. I think that was because too much time was spent on the civil war and various Runa and Jana’ata characters, and less time was spent with Sandoz and Mendes. THAT was the story I really wanted to know about and I felt a little disappointed in how little of the novel involved them. Additionally, as a sequel I cannot really recommend it to everyone I meet … you must have read The Sparrow first.

Anna Fields does a marvelous job performing the audio book. She has good pacing and her ease with pronouncing all those different names and foreign phrases is admirable. Her gift for voices and dialect makes it very easy to differentiate the many characters (mostly male) in the novel. Makes me wonder if Russell had the potential for audio in mind when she created the multi-cultural cast of characters.
Profile Image for Banshee.
492 reviews48 followers
October 21, 2022
3,5 stars, rounded up.

I already knew the author didn't shy away from dealing heavy punches, but it didn't make it much easier when they came. There were some really difficult subjects explored and the characters were never spared from the worst kinds of suffering. It's definitely the type of book to read on quiet evenings, when there's time for reflection and for focus on riding out the emotions woken by the events in the story.

The characters, both the old and the new, were very realistic in their complexity. Almost none of them were likeable in a traditional sense. They were flawed in a very human way (whether they were literally human or alien) in the sense that it's impossible to always be rational or to always think about the feelings of other people when subject to difficult situations.

I'm not sure anymore whether the series was critical of organised religions or pro-religion anymore as the lines blurred. Maybe it was neither. Or both at the same time. But maybe it's a good thing as it kept me on my toes and kept me questioning what it was trying to say. It was definitely an interesting and intellectually stimulating experience. My favourite quote regarding the subject:

He was a linguist, after all, and it seemed entirely possible for him that religion and literature and art and music were all merely side effects of a brain structure that comes into the world ready to make language out of noise, sense out of chaos. Our capacity for imposing meaning, he thought, is programmed to unfold the way a butterfly's wings unfold when it escapes the chrysalis, ready to fly. We are biologically driven to create meaning.

Now, I don't think the sequel was as good as the first book. The middle was dragging. I found the exploration of complex politics on Rakhat in such detail unnecessary and not as impactful as the glimpses into the alien culture from the first novel. It might have given a much fuller picture to dive into the dynamics between Jana'ata and Runa, and to explore the consequences of human intervention. It's just that I didn't find it as interesting to read about.

It did provide a good closure to the story, though.
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