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The book 'Children of God' is the sequel to Mary Doria Russell's award winning first novel, 'The Sparrow'. In this we take up once again with Father Emilio Sandoz, the only survivor of a doomed expedition to a nearby planet, set in the not-to-distant future. (Please see reviews of 'The Sparrow' for a little more detail about that.)
Most of the characters from the first novel have died (in this novel we discover how a few of the missing people from the first expedition met their fates), and due to the effects of near-light-speed travel, many decades have passed on earth while Father Emilio is still relatively young.
There are political crises on earth, including a crisis in the church, and there seems to be an urgent need for yet another expedition to Rakhat. In the interim, there have been several attempted journeys, all of which have failed. The church hierarchy decides that the only 'successful' trip was that of Father Emilio, and thus decides (largely without his consent) to send him off again.
At the same time, Rakhat has undergone a dramatic change, brought about in part by the arrival of the strangers, but also due to the political schemings of members of the dominant race, the Jana'ata. The Runa, always larger in population, begin to realise their oppressive situation, aided by renegade Jana'ata, and a civil war breaks loose. Into this situation the human expedition re-enters the scene on Rakhat.
This story completes many of the unfinished details from 'The Sparrow'. By filling in the blanks while also carrying the narrative forward, Russell's rather dark picture of the nature of God in the universe (as enacted by the creatures on earth and elsewhere) becomes a little lighter, a little more just, a little less doomed. There is, however, no answer to the personal injustices, to Father Emilio's abuse both at the hands of the Jana'ata and the Jesuit order.
Russell's development of the characters, both human and alien, deepens and broadens in this second novel; her imaginative history of the alien cultures is quite stunning, and her treatment of the strengths and weakness in human character insightful.
Read 'The Sparrow' and 'Children of God' back-to-back if at all possible.
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