Reviewed by Steven H Silver
In The Sparrow, Mary Doria Russell chronicled Father Emilio Sandozs fall from grace on the planet Rakhat. In Children of God, she provides him with the opportunity to achieve salvation. The new novel opens a year after Sandoz has returned from Rakhat. He has begun to face the failures of his first mission and learned to deal with the machines which will permit his body to continue to function. However, he is still unable to bring closure to the part of his life which caused him to question his faith in God and brought death to his closest friends.
Just as the earlier novel jumped back and forth both through time and space, so too does Children of God. In addition to seeing Sandoz's attempts to reclaim a normal life on Earth, we also have a chance to see what happened to the Supaari, the alien who betrayed Sandoz in the first novel. Russell uses Supaari's adventures to paint a fuller picture of Rakhatian society than she had in The Sparrow. Unfortunately, while she does a fantastic job with Sandoz's story, her alien culture just isn't as interesting as her human one.
Russell's strength lies in her ability to create interesting and sympathetic human characters. Her humans may be more powerful than her Runa and Jana'ata characters because she needs to spend less time building and describing their culture. On the other hand, with the humans, Russell is able to get into intricate examinations of faith, loyalty, hope and other aspects of religion as her characters, both Jesuit and lay, wrestle with these topics.
In Children of God, Sandoz has turned his back on the God who he believes has deserted him. Those around him, notably Vincenzo Giuliani, the Father General of the Jesuits, and Pope Gelasius IIII, believe that not only hasn't God forsaken Sandoz, but that God has further need for Sandoz on Rakhat, a planet to which the priest has refused to return. In their eyes, Sandoz's suffering has made him into a modern Job, meaning he not only has suffered, but must, eventually, return to God's side. Despite the black robes and white collars worn by so many of the characters, Children of God is as much a study of the Old Testament deity as it is a study of the New Testament one.
Although Russell provides a concise summary of The Sparrow at the beginning of Children of God, this novel in no way stands on its own. As a sequel to The Sparrow, it provides important follow-up to Sandoz's relationship with God and the question of evil in a universe created and rules by God, but it is not as strong a novel as The Sparrow.
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