Embers of War by Gareth L. Powell
Publisher: Titan Books
Publication date: 20 February 2018
Genre: Science Fiction
Page count: 400 pages
Rating: 4 out of 5 stars
This is a spoiler-free review.
Embers of War first came onto my radar when it won the British Science Fiction Award for best novel in 2018. Curious and craving some good sci-fi, I decided to pick it up and see what all the fuss was about. To my surprise and delight, it features one of my absolute favourite tropes in science fiction — sentient spaceships! I ended up really enjoying this fun sci-fi romp — in many ways it captured the fun and essence of the Star Wars films and translated it onto paper.
The warship Trouble Dog was built and bred for calculating violence, yet following a brutal war, she finds herself disgusted by conflict and her role in a possible war crime. Seeking to atone, she joins the House of Reclamation, an organisation dedicated to rescuing ships in distress.
But, stripped of her weaponry and emptied of her officers, she struggles in the new role she’s chosen for herself. When a ship goes missing in a disputed system, Trouble Dog and her new crew of misfits and loners, captained by Sal Konstanz, an ex-captain of a medical frigate who once fought against Trouble Dog, are assigned to investigate and save whoever they can.
Meanwhile, light years away, intelligence officer Ashton Childe is tasked with locating and saving the poet, Ona Sudak, who was aboard the missing ship, whatever the cost. In order to do this, he must reach out to the only person he considers a friend, even if he’s not sure she can be trusted. What Childe doesn’t know is that Sudak is not the person she appears to be.
Quickly, what appears to be a straightforward rescue mission turns into something far more dangerous, as Trouble Dog, Konstanz and Childe, find themselves at the centre of a potential new conflict that could engulf not just mankind but the entire galaxy.
If she is to survive and save her crew, Trouble Dog is going to have to remember how to fight.
I cannot tell you how much I enjoyed reading Embers of War. It had so much adventure and fun, especially when the crew of the Trouble Dog came together — I feel like it was the perfect remedy to all the bleak sci-fi I’ve been reading lately. I love any book that deals with the aftermath of the war — the rebuilding of relationships, the releasing of old tensions, and the way characters recover from their own traumas – -and The Embers of War gave me that. The Archipelago War is three years past when the book opens, however wounds are still fresh. This aspect of the book gave a lot of life to the characters, something that I often find missing in other plot-driven books.
There isn’t a huge amount of deep characterization in this book, which is one of the reasons the war helps them feel a little more three dimensional. Everyone felt like an archetype — the good guys were good and strong and the bad guys were a little bumbling and silly. However, I thought this worked really well for the story Powell was telling. Trouble Dog was naturally my favourite — how could I not love the sentient former warship who has a fondness for venting people out of the airlock? They felt the most unique of all the characters in the book and I absolutely loved their POV chapters. I also really enjoyed Sal, the Trouble Dog’s captain, and the relationship between the two. They were the strongest characters in the book. I wish we got just a little bit more from Childe and Sudak — I don’t feel like I understood them as well and they had the potential to be fantastic characters.
My only real complaint about the book is that the ending felt a little too clean and easy — everything ties up in a neat bow and that’s not something I typically like. The puzzle pieces clicked together a little too well for my taste, however I’m thinking that Fleet of Knives, the next book in the trilogy, will prove me wrong and show us that this ending is not so neat. I’m looking forward to seeing how these events play out in the next book.
I don’t think Embers of War is the strongest space opera I’ve ever read, but it is easily the most fun science fiction book I’ve read in ages. If you want a good, fun, science fiction adventure with the fun, adventure, and banter of Star Wars, you should absolutely check this book out. I already have Fleet of Knives on hand to read this summer and cannot wait to finish the trilogy next year!
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