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From Barnes & NobleThis is a first novel. There is no way on earth that I would have pegged it as a first novel; even those things about it that I consider flawed are flawed with that confident sense of assurance that speaks of deliberate choice, not floundering. Ostensibly about the first contact with the aliens who live on the planet of Rakhat, this is a book about faith, hope, and charity, a discourse of sorts about the nature of religious belief and the desire for it. If this makes it sound dry, it's not; Russell never lectures. What she has to say about the magic -- dark and light -- of faith and belief she says through characters that are so well drawn you almost can't help but love them, suffer for them, suffer with them and hope. This is an astonishing book, at once literate and accessible, and I don't think I can recommend it highly enough. I missed it in hardcover; I'm glad I didn't miss it in its first paperback incarnation.