Review: EMBERS OF WAR by Gareth L. Powell

⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐

This is some of the best science fiction out there right now. Compelling, tightly-plotted, character-driven sci-fi is difficult to find and Gareth Powell packs all three with a punch.

Embers of War is an epic space opera that follows several former combatants of the Archipelago War as they come to terms with the horrors they experienced in the fighting and try to make new lives for themselves in the aftermath of the conflict, while rushing headlong towards the locus of the next big interstellar war.

The setting, the plot, the scale of this book all sound grand (and they are) but Powell’s writing expertly places his characters and their actions and motivations at the centre of everything.

And holy shit it’s the characters that really make this book shine.

Don’t get me wrong, the world-building is also excellent. I was pulled into the events of the world straight away with a hot start that compelled me to read on and the lore is woven naturally into the narrative so I got just the right amount of detail to make the Multiplicity feel like a real, living world without the book sliding into contextless info dumps.

But damn, those characters.

Sal Konstanz, the determined but self-doubting captain of a galactic rescue team; her sentient ship Trouble Dog, a decommissioned battleship seeking redemption for her role in the war; Ona Sudak, a poet who finds herself at the centre of an interstellar manhunt; Ashton Childe, a cynical government agent disillusioned with the realities of life as a spook; and a cast of memorable side characters who feel no less fleshed-out for not being the main focus.

And without doubt, Trouble Dog is my favourite. With Trouble Dog, Gareth has written the character I didn’t know I’d been waiting for – an intelligent spaceship who isn’t just an artificial intelligence, but a sentient being, with complex motivations and relationships. Made from human stem cells and canine DNA, she’s not altogether human, but she is a person. Trouble Dog is ruthless, calculating and fiercely loyal; with a vivid personality and sometimes abrasive attitude, she’s just as relatable and flawed as the human characters and all I wanted was for her to succeed and find some inner peace.

Gareth’s writing breathes so much life and energy into these characters and the setting they live in that I didn’t even realise I was reading a story most of the time; it’s one of those books that immerses you totally in its world, sucking you in and putting blinkers on the world around you. I sped through it in one sitting, helped along by short chapters and a riveting pace that relentlessly drags you to a blistering conclusion hinting at bigger things to come.

You could read Embers of War as a standalone; it wraps up this particular story neatly enough that it makes for a satisfying conclusion, but by the time you reach the end I can almost guarantee you’ll be so invested in the lives of these characters and the ‘out of the frying pan, into the fire’ vibe the ending delivers that you’ll want to immediately open up the next book in the series.

At times dark, humorous and always utterly compelling, Embers of War is the science fiction you need in your life.

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