Book Review: Children of God by Mary Doria Russell

Children of God (1999) by Mary Doria Russell is the sequel to The Sparrow, but unfortunately in its great ambition fails to live up to its predecessor. Russell introduces a flurry of new characters and overlapping plotlines that make the novel more confusing than complex, and then tries to resolve them all in a way that feels contrived. The strength of The Sparrow is its characters but I don’t feel that the new characters are developed as well. Particularly three Jesuit priests who are Lakota Sioux, Afrikaner, and from Belfast just seem to conveniently tied in with the issues of genocide, partition, and apartheid that occur on the planet of Rakhat. That there is not one, but two idiot savants who mystically show the way to God just seems too much for me.

On the plus side, is still a fine yarn and a good read. There’s a lot of reflection on civilization, spiritual matters, and humor as well.  I particularly like the part where Emilio Sandoz mistakes the Pope for a research assistant.

Children of God picks up where The Sparrow left off. Emilo Sandoz having confronted his past and begun healing leaves the priesthood but agrees to work as a linguist/translator for the Jesuits. He meets and falls in love with Gina, a cousin-in-law of the Father-General, but before they can marry he’s shanghaied into going on a return mission by Gina’s gangster ex-husband Carlo. I found Carlo another poorly developed character and an unbelievable deus ex machina means of getting Emilio back to Rakhat.

Meanwhile on Rakhat, a revolution is taking place spearheaded by the stranded Earth woman Sofia Mendes and outlaw Jana’ata Supaari VaGayjur (we do get a good explanation of what Supaari’s motivations were for basically selling Sandoz in to sexual slavery in the first book). With their greater numbers the Runa are able to overthrow the Jana’ata and create an uncomfortable new society.

Alternating across the time divide with flashbacks and flash forwards it all comes to gather rather to neatly in the end.  Still worth reading if you liked the first book.