Titan Books | 2019 (19 February) | 405p | Review copy | Buy the book
Fleet of Knives follows on from the excellent Embers of War but it stands alone very well indeed. This is such a great series, developing into something very special, that I still recommend that you read both books. This review assumes that you don’t mind knowing a little of what happened before.
Trouble Dog was a warship. It took part in an act that many see as a war crime. It’s trying to atone, working now for an agency that seeks to help those who are lost or in danger, to bring them back safely within the fold. Some memories, though, cannot be forgotten. Part machine, part human, part dog Trouble Dog is unable to escape its impulse for loyalty, to protect its crew. This is about to get tested. The ship has detected a distress signal from Lucy’s Ghost, a spaceship that took a pounding, its crew seeking shelter on an enormous abandoned alien spaceship. Trouble Dog, captained by Sal Konstanz, rushes to their aid, even though it knows that things have got very tricky indeed. The Marble Armada, a formidable alien fleet of knives, has a mission and it is merciless – it must destroy any vessel capable of war. It sees only the bigger picture. And that means Trouble Dog must be annihilated. But, considering what the ship discovers aboard the alien vessel, this might be the least of Trouble Dog‘s problems.
I loved Embers of War! Such a tense, action-packed thriller of a space opera, brilliantly executed, with thoroughly entertaining and varied characters. Fleet of Knives picks up the action and is, if anything, even better than its predecessor. This is fantastic science fiction! One element that stands out from it instantly is its spaceships. Rarely since reading Iain M. Banks’ Culture novels have I enjoyed spaceships as much as these. Some of the ships are piloted by AIs, others have more disturbing links to humans or other species. They can all think, feel fear, feel guilt. Trouble Dog knows all about guilt. It has lost its pack. It must find another in the family of its crew. The ships play such a crucial role here. Their personalities are made solid and there is one in particular who becomes especially real. It’s all rather poignant. The ships are every bit as important as their crew.
Not all of the crew members are human. I love how this universe is presented, how species work together. There’s almost a Star Trek vibe to this cooperation and optimism, although we are regularly reminded that this is a universe in turmoil, with dangerous aliens. Each ship carries an engineer from the Druff species – Nod, the Druff engineer aboard Trouble Dog is quite possibly my favourite character, not least because of the rather unexpected repercussions of its recent shore leave (do read the extract here) – but these kind and amiable, if odd, aliens are no match for the other terrifying aliens, monsters even, that we encounter in the novel. Some might explain their actions with reason but there are others for whom reason doesn’t exist at all. There are aliens here that will make your skin crawl. Excellent!
Fleet of Knives has a wonderful, thrilling plot and every bit as good as that is Gareth L. Powell’s writing. We have complex characters, stunning set sequences in the vacuum of space, horrible aliens, enormous mysterious spaceships, enigmatic and menacing aliens, great characters, the dread of human extinction, fantastic descriptions of space, ships and aliens, moments of extreme tension. I couldn’t read this fast enough. I hung on to every word and I can’t wait for more.
Other reviews and features
Embers of War
The recent boom in space opera – guest post by Gareth L. Powell
An extract from Fleet of Knives