Embers of War by Gareth L Powell

Titan Books | 2018 (20 February) | 411p | Review copy | Buy the book

Embers of War by Gareth L PowellTrouble Dog was once a warship but this sentient vessel made a choice and turned her back on violence, choosing to work instead for the House of Reclamation, an organisation that rescues ships in distress. This can be a lethal business as Sal Konstanz, the captain of Trouble Dog and her small crew, knows only too well. But when a mayday comes across from an extraordinary region of space called the Gallery, Trouble Dog is the nearest ship. A tourist cruise vessel has been fired upon by an unknown enemy, an attack that might not be an isolated incident. Trouble Dog‘s sibling vessels warn her not to go but Trouble Dog is driven by a need to atone for past sins and will not be held back.

The war might have ended but the peace is uneasy, violence still flaring in quiet pockets of human space. On one remote planet Ashton Childe and Laura Petrushka, two spies from opposing sides, work together. Their mission is to rescue the poet Ona Sudak who was on the ship attacked in the Gallery. The rescue will be far from easy and soon Trouble Dog and her crew as well as Childe realise that the consequences of the attack could have repercussions for the entire Galaxy.

I am a huge fan of space opera but most especially when it’s a space opera as well written and gripping as Gareth L Powell’s Embers of War. There’s an explosive opening and that sets the scene and mood for the entire novel but there is far more to this book than warfare and fighting. We’re also given all the other things that I would wish for – fascinating worlds, intriguing characters and relationships, sentient starships, curious aliens and their artefacts, the promise of something huge threatening from the shadows.

I loved the Gallery and Powell describes it beautifully. I need wonder in my space-based science fiction reads and the Gallery supplies me with an awful lot of it. I want to know every detail about the planets in this system as well as all that they suggest about the other life forms, past and present, in the universe. I enjoyed the way in which we learn about humanity’s entry into interstellar travel. I loved the back stories that we learn about some of the characters, particularly about Sal’s past. This is a rich universe for Gareth L Powell to explore, in Embers of War and in future books.

Trouble Dog is an appealing character in her own right, a mixture of dog, human and machine. And we learn a little about the way she thinks thanks to the wonderful structure of the novel which moves between the main characters. I love science fiction novels that do this. I don’t want to be confined, I want to explore it all. And the heads we pop into are varied, from the ship herself to the non-human engineer Nod, and to Ona Sudak marooned on one of the Gallery’s planets. There are some great female characters in Embers of War and they fit perfectly into their distinct roles. Trouble Dog inevitably reminds us of the sentient starships of Iain M Banks but she doesn’t suffer from the comparison.

There is plenty of action in Embers of War and it’s thrilling stuff – moments of real peril as well as violence. But these scenes don’t get in the way of us getting to fall for the characters. Embers of War is a thoroughly exciting pageturner, full of characters and personalities I couldn’t get enough of, and it sets up the next novel in the series beautifully. There are themes and ideas here that I can’t wait to see explored further as we’re taken deeper into space, into a universe that could prove to be very frightening indeed.

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