Gareth L. Powell has managed to create a modern piece of space opera without the typical glitz and glam and is better for it. Instead, EMBERS OF WAR engages the affects of violence and the impossibility of ignoring the aftermath of such violence.
This has to be one of my most enjoyable reads of this sub-genre to date, which isn’t a surprise being that is a British Science Fiction Association Award winner for Best Novel in 2018. I read this in about three or four sittings, holding onto the book for dear life the whole way through.
We find Trouble Dog, a former warship, now working with the House of Reclamation, an organization created to help ships or people in distress or conduct search and rescue missions. Trouble Dog joined after being partially accountable and partially a tool in a a war crime and decides to atone for her sins. Little does Trouble Dog realize that she is about to find herself and her crew in the thick of something much larger when they respond to the report of a missing ship.
Powell does not hold back with this book and his lack of restraint for amazing set pieces, intimate introspection, and brilliant prose come together for an impeccable reading experience. I found myself leaping through these pages once the action ramps up, which did take some time as the story beats fall into place. And while sentient spaceships are somewhat new to me, since I’ve only experienced them so far in Nnedi Okorafor’s BINTI, I very much enjoyed Trouble Dog as a full fledged character.
It may sound contradictory, but I also found Powell’s restraint admirable as well. So often in space opera, the reader is assaulted with names, regions, politics, whatever you-name-it, that drop in as large expository info dumps. EMBERS OF WAR gives readers a slow drip, or rather, treats world building as a “need to know,” which is just so perfectly done. Only a few novels have managed to do that in recent years, and I’m happy to say this is one of them. Small aside, I loved the alien engineer/mechanic, Nod, but I only ever knew as much about him as Powell was willing to give or as the story revealed.
If anything, this a masterclass in how to world build for science fiction, especially space opera. And this does not even touch on the brilliant characterization of Trouble Dog, a spaceship that I had feelings for by the end of the book. In fact, I’m fairly sure I enjoyed it more than any of the human characters (sorry Sal).
So, while the book does take some time to get going, once you’re introduced to the characters and the various “escalation” events happen. But once they do, Powell truly kicks it up a gear and takes the reader on a thrill ride that should please just about any science fiction fan.
Now to just find the second book, FLEET OF KNIVES…