The Captain’s Log – the sparrow (Mary Doria Russell) – a 19 in 2019 book for Sci-Fi Month!

Ahoy there me mateys!  This be the sixteenth book in me Ports for Plunder – 19 Books in 2019 list.  I found this book in the 2016 treasure haul from Maine and then never read it.  That’s why it made this year’s 19 in 2019 list.  And in a weird coincidence, it happens to be a book that’s being read as part of a Sci-Fi Month read-along.  Talk about good timing!  I ended up reading the whole thing at once but will be following the weekly discussions surrounding this book on Goodreads.

Basically this book is about a group of eight humans sent by Jesuits to make first contact with aliens on another planet.  Four are Jesuit priests and four are civilians.  The prologue states “They went ad majorem Dei gloriam: for the greater glory of God. They meant no harm.”  So how were the humans going to screw this up?  I thought the concept of Jesuits going for scientific pursuits was kinda awesome.  Ye know very early that the trip was a disaster but through the course of the book ye find out the reasons why.

The book has multiple POVs and two timelines.  There is the present timeline (2059) where ye meet with the sole survivor.  There is the history of how contact was made (beginning 2019!) and what happened on the other planet, Rakhat.  And there be snippets of the lives of the travelers before they went to space woven in both timelines.  But most of the focus in both timelines be on the survivor Father Emilio.

This book was beautifully written and highly engaging.  I particularly enjoyed the found family aspects of the group who goes to Rakhat.  The best character by far was Father Emilio himself.  I loved pretty much everything about him.  I hated his suffering in the present and I loved the juxtaposition of his personality before the mission.  There were four other very strong characters that I loved.  Sophie and D.W. were the two other humans on Rakhat who felt the most real and I loved their personalities.  In the present there were two men John and Edward who helped Father Emilio in his struggles.  I loved how caring and compassionate they were.  The other characters were developed to a lesser extent but I thought all of the characterization was well done.

I actually really enjoyed the planet Rakhat and the descriptions of life there.  I loved how life evolved on the planet.  I thought the first contact scene was different and excellent.  The languages on the planet and how they worked were cool even if I didn’t quite understand all the ramifications.  How the planet was described made me want to visit and see all the flora and fauna.  I thought the politics of the world were set up well.  Also I was surprised at how the alien music turned out.

There were several downsides in this book which immensely lessened me overall enjoyment.  First were the rather rushed endings of both the time on Rakhat and with the Jesuit investigation back on Earth.  Though the set-ups for the each timeline were immersive and extensive, the resolutions were compressed into 50 pages and personally unsatisfying.  There is a massive theme of rape in this book that was distasteful in the extreme.  It was gratuitous and superfluous.  I believe it could have been written out altogether without changing the message.  And lastly how the investigation was carried out was demeaning and harsh towards Emilio and for no real purpose.  It felt like he was tortured by both the ruling aliens and then the ruling Jesuits.  The ending in particular was both horrifying in how the trauma was dismissed and annoyingly ambivalent about what happens to Emilio next.  Moreover I felt it was fundamentally dishonest about the healing process with regards to PTSD.

The issues I had with the ending took this from a five star read to just an okay read.  Though I do have to say that the experience so far with the read-along has enriched me enjoyment of the book and I am glad that stars aligned for the timing of experiencing this book.  Arrrr!

Side note: Only three books left in the 19 in 2019!  Also Sci-Fi Month is hosted by Matey Lisa of Dear Geek Place and Matey Imyril of One More.  Check out their blog links for more info and join the fun!

Goodreads had this to say about the novel:

In 2019, humanity finally finds proof of extraterrestrial life when a listening post in Puerto Rico picks up exquisite singing from a planet that will come to be known as Rakhat. While United Nations diplomats endlessly debate a possible first contact mission, the Society of Jesus quietly organizes an eight-person scientific expedition of its own. What the Jesuits find is a world so beyond comprehension that it will lead them to question what it means to be “human”.

To visit the author’s website go to:

Mary Doria Russell – Author

To buy the novel please visit:

the sparrow – Book

To add to Goodreads go to:

Yer Ports for Plunder List

Previous Reviews for Me 19 in 2019 Books

the lie tree – Frances Hardinge (Captain’s Log – Fantasy)

children of blood and bone – Tomi Adeyemi (Walk the Plank – YA Fantasy)

summerland – Hannu Rajaniemi (Captain’s Log – Sci-Fi)

the ship – Antonia Honeywell (Captain’s Log – Sci-Fi Dystopia)

rosewater – Tade Thompson (Captain’s Log – Sci-Fi)

wild beauty – Anna-Marie McLemore (Captain’s Log – Fantasy)

eleanor oliphant is completely fine – Gail Honeyman (Off the Charts – Contemporary)

the rift – Nina Allen (Captain’s Log – Sci-Fi)

the paladin of souls – Lois McMaster Bujold (Captain’s Log – Fantasy)

the night circus – Erin Morganstern (Captain’s Log – Fantasy)

to say nothing of the dog – Connie Willis (Captain’s Log – Fantasy)

the falcons of fire and ice – Karen Maitland (Captain’s Log – Fantasy)

hot head – Simon Ings (Abandon Ship – Fantasy)

the bees – Laline Paull (Captain’s Log – Fantasy)

the wolf road – Beth Lewis (Captain’s Log – Dystopian Sci-Fi) 

32 thoughts on “The Captain’s Log – the sparrow (Mary Doria Russell) – a 19 in 2019 book for Sci-Fi Month!

  1. I have really enjoyed reading your review and your intense reaction to the storyline. I haven’t read this book and right now I’m probably not going to dive into this one. It sounds like it is harrowing in parts – and as I’ve been struggling recently, I will park this one for when Life is being kinder…

    But I am interested in your reaction – and the fact that a bit of time elapsing has softened your emotions. That is a fascinating process that I have also experienced with some books where I feel the story or character didn’t turn out the way I wanted. And, like you, when I have given myself a bit of space, I feel less wound up by the outcome. Though there are also times my reaction doesn’t change as I’ve felt the author has in some way shortchanged his readers.


    1. Even though the end didn’t work for me, I can’t stop thinking about the book in general. And it has lead to fun conversations. It also has lots of love and re-readers. It’s one of those books that I can rate highly because of the rape scene but do see merit in both the story and the writing. Thanks for reading.
      x The Captain

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Ugh it’s the worst when a bad ending can ruin the whole book, but I know exactly what you mean! This one is on my TBR… not sure if I’ll get to it this month (although I guess it would be pretty cool to read it in 2019!).

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Upon more reflection, I was just pissed at the characters at the ending. I would have preferred the rape plot to not exist. But the whole book wasn’t ruined surprisingly. I actually respect the book the more I think about it even if the ending wasn’t what I wanted. It makes me think and I like reading all of the diverse opinions of this book. I do hope ye love it when ye get to it.
      x The Captain

      Liked by 1 person

      1. That actually happens to me quite a bit- I like things more in retrospect than I did while I was actually reading them. I’ll keep the ending in mind when I go in to it.

        Liked by 1 person

  3. What an interesting premise! I love first contact stories, and I’m intrigued by the fact that in this case it’s not a team of scientist (or worse, a military contingent) who is sent to meet the aliens, but a group of people including some priests. I will add this to my “wanted” list, and thanks for sharing! 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I really do think this book is worth the read and glad I could bring it to yer attention. The group does have some very smart people who go to the planet but I also liked that none were military. Thanks so much for taking the time to read me review and comment.
      x The Captain

      Liked by 1 person

  4. Have read this book multiple times, but not lately. Like other fans, every time I read it, I get more out of it, and the end is harsher every time, because I know what’s coming.

    I’m interested in your comment at the end of your review, how the story is dishonest about how to handle trauma and PTSD. While I agree with your viewpoint, I think many of the characters in the book, epsecially those who look to get a confession out of Emilio, they are not interested in helping him heal from his trauma in any meaningful way. What they want, doesn’t have much to do with what his psyche needs. At least that is my two cents.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I don’t think I will be rereading this but I certainly understand why people do. It was such a unique feel to first contact and I will be thinking about the book for a long time to come.

      And yer comment about the (most of) the priests not caring about Emilio and having other agendas is an excellent point. I think that I was just so pissed at them that it made me want something else. Now that some days have passed, I certainly have calmed down and agree with yer viewpoint. I still kiinda hate the investigative priests though. I do know there be a second book so maybe the problems I have get addressed in that. I actually thought it was a standalone at first. Have ye read the second book?
      x The Captain

      Liked by 1 person

      1. I’ve not read the second book, I heard it wasn’t as good as the first one. I think it had originally meant to be a stand alone, and only much later did the author right a sequel? maybe?

        I’m also one of those terrible readers that if i love the first book in a series, I end up rereading that 1st book a ton of times before reading book 2 in the series.

        Liked by 1 person

      2. I also like to reread book ones all the time instead of the latter ones. I don’t really know why. One of me favourite books is the first in the green rider series. I actually gave all the other books away and continue to reread the first. I just pretend it is a standalone. Even if there be dangling plot points.
        x The Captain

        Liked by 1 person

  5. The Sparrow is one of my favorite books of all times! I’ve read it several times, and always take something new from it. I also had the pleasure of attending a talk by the author with a group of high school students — it was fascinating. There is a sequel, so what happens next to Emilio is explored in great detail. I didn’t love it as much as The Sparrow, but it’s still part of the whole and worth reading.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. The author seems very intelligent judging by her work at least so hearing her speak sounds awesome. I am not sure if I want to read the second book or not. I am flip flopping about it. I have been loving all the discussion around this book. It seems like an excellent book club book. Lovely comment.
      x The Captain


  6. Fascinating to hear of a science fiction book that includes Jesuit missionaries in its storyline. It sounds both harrowing and intriguing with the inquisitions by both aliens and Jesuits. Enjoyed reading the review Captain!

    Liked by 1 person

  7. I read this quite a long time ago and I remember loving it, but not all the detail about the rape. I should be doing a reread! I just remember it made me cry and gave me weird chills.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. There were certainly some very intense moments and I was very much Team Emilio. This is a book that I be liking more and more upon reflection even if the end pissed me off something fierce. I don’t know if that be enough to change me rating but me esteem for the writer continues to grow.
      x The Captain


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