Publishers Weekly
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Bestseller Paolini’s standalone prequel to 2020’s To Sleep in a Sea of Stars breathes new life into the classic first encounter narrative through a sophisticated examination of the grieving narrator’s psyche. In 2234, after a predator kills xenobiologist Alex Crichton’s wife, Layla, on the colonized planet of Eidolon, Alex joins up with a survey expedition to get off-world, but his heart isn’t in his work. He’s wracked with guilt over his failure to protect Layla and barely able to do the minimum necessary for his job. His feeling that nothing matters anymore is challenged when the spaceship’s cartographer detects something unprecedented on unexplored planet Talos VII: a huge, perfectly circular hole. Though the planet is believed to be devoid of life, the hole’s dimensions and neatness suggest that it’s artificial, and thus, potentially, “the first concrete proof of intelligent, self-aware aliens.” Crichton joins the small team dispatched to Talos VII’s surface to investigate, but that effort proves hazardous—and the greatest threats are those the team members pose to each other. Paolini makes the experiences of his well-shaded explorers vivid and gripping through smart worldbuilding and believable stakes. James S.A. Corey fans will be especially riveted. (May)

Copyright © Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.

When crew members aboard the spaceship SLV Adamura discover that the planet Talos VII is sporting a strange alien artifact, they decide to investigate. Xenobiologist Alex Crichton isn’t very engaged in his work aboard the Adamura. He's in the depths of grief after his partner, Layla, was killed on the planet where she and Crichton were colonists. But then the crew picks up something strange on the surface of remote planet Talos VII: a hole. An enormous, perfectly circular opening that was clearly made by a race of intelligent beings and seems to function as a huge speaker. After heated debate on whether the Adamura crew should try to investigate the phenomenon themselves or wait for a mission better equipped for such an exploration, Crichton joins a small team tasked with crossing the hostile Talos VII landscape to explore the alien artifact. It doesn’t take long for things to start going wrong, and as the team gets closer to the crater, their equipment, bodies, and minds start to fracture. What starts off as a bitter but contained tension between geologist and rationalist Volya Pushkin and the deeply religious team leader, Talia Indelicato, heats to a boiling point as supplies and patience run low. And Tao Chen, the timid chemist, struggles to stay out of their arguments until he hurts his leg and becomes a literal, physical pawn in their fights. Crichton, who was already on shaky psychological ground, becomes determined to make it to the site if only to honor what Layla would have done had she been in his place. Paolini effectively creates a gradual creep of dread as the doomed team slowly falls apart. While some aspects of the crew tensions fall a bit flat—the ongoing talking points between Pushkin and Talia about religion versus reason feel uninspired—the team’s descent into paranoia and violence is effectively rendered. Paolini understands that in the best character-driven science-fiction stories, the alien tech is never as interesting as the human relationships. Tense and gripping. Copyright © Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.

Library Journal
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This pulse-pounding science-fiction novel pits human curiosity and technology against alien tech deep in the cosmos. The story follows Alex Crichton, a xenobiologist whose ship, the Adamura, comes in contact with evidence of sophisticated alien intelligence when they discover a massive cylindrical hole cut into the surface of a faraway planet which is transmitting a message into space. The sonic force that the hole exerts on the plant is so massive that the ship can't land safely. The crew decides to send a small away party to discover what they can, crossing the planet on foot. The majority of the novel describes this grueling trek, which, with its tents and sleds, reads as a story ripped from the pages of Antarctic exploration. The away mission does not go as planned, with equipment failures, unexpected encounters, and the growing threat that the ever-present "thud" from the alien machine will make them lose their grip on reality. VERDICT Those daunted by the 800+ pages of the first in this series, To Sleep in a Sea of Stars, will find this a comparably brief read, and it works well as an excellent starting point for the series as a whole.—Jeremiah Rood