Hot off the presses in February 2020, Sparrows is the eleventh book of the Earth's Final Chapter series by prolific science fiction author Julian Fernandes. Like the previous ten books, it is a standalone novel but your reading experience will be considerably more rewarding if paired with the background the earlier books provide.
Sparrows sees myriad characters on seemingly unconnected paths converge in a spellbinding adventure of heroism, redemption and sacrifice in Fernandes's post-apocalyptic world. It is a forbidding place populated by humans and humanoid mutants, fantastic creatures and semi-autonomous robots.
Because the novel narrates several parallel and intertwining storylines, there is no single ‘main’ protagonist. Arguably, the most prominent of them – at least in this novel – is Kumar. His small group of survivors breaks away from their respective clans to form a ‘family’. They call themselves the Sparrows, giving the novel its name.
However, the story begins with a child, Elena. Alone but not afraid, Elena navigates treacherous jungles and the beasts within; she explores long-forgotten cities where even greater dangers lie hidden. In a surviving metropolis, Machiavellian bureaucrat Faust makes his way around the corridors of power that may prove just as perilous and no less forgiving.
Mysterious monk Umbra approaches the end of a decade-long quest but may falter at the final threshold, the sacrifices of his dead companions in vain. In his way stands Officer Embry of the PC who has her own demons to conquer.
The story hurtles forward at a relentless pace. There is hardly a page devoid of action, dialogue or exposition that propels the plot along. When we are given a respite, it is to expand on individual character arcs and interpersonal relationships. I liked the rich tapestry of personalities, settings and unexpected connections that Fernandes has woven here.
The ‘lost technology’ angle of post-apocalyptic SciFi has always fascinated me and this novel delivers it in generous helpings. Unconventional journeys of self-discovery are another favorite of mine. It was poignant how Umbra realizes that his mission is almost complete but the price he has paid is his humanity.
Elena is characterized by strength and resilience but also exhibits the common child's flaw of knowing exactly what's good for her… until it backfires. Kumar is haunted by self-doubt, leading for the first time and straight into battle at that.
The characters are very well-developed for a novel as short as this. Fernandes manages to imbue depth into them, even those we meet in fleeting glimpses. I was almost afraid to be too emotionally invested in some of them because Sparrows has a propensity to kill them off ala Game of Thrones in its early (and much better) seasons.
Politics does not particularly enthrall me in real life and that is probably why the political intrigues of the storyline did not, either. That is not to say that they were irrelevant; quite the opposite, Fernandes seems to be setting up a very textured exploration of how life is very seldom black and white but more often grey.
The EFC series seems to be aimed at teens early in their discovery of science fiction. In that respect, Book 11: Sparrows does what it sets out to do, and more. It wouldn’t surprise me that down the track, many adults will look back fondly at this book (and this series) as the start of their love of the SF genre.