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***Spoilers ahoy for EMBERS OF WAR – read the review here***
FLEET OF KNIVES is even better than its predecessor. And if you saw my glowing review of EMBERS OF WAR, you know that’s no mean feat.
Following the events of the previous book, the House of Reclamation calls on Sal Konstanz and the Trouble Dog’s crew to rescue a freighter that’s crashed on the edges of human-inhabited space; Ona Sudak faces the death penalty following trial for her crimes at Pelapatarn; and with her help, the Marble Armada makes a momentous decision with galaxy-spanning consequences that Sal, Trouble Dog and her crew can’t ignore.
As epic and thrilling as the first instalment was, Fleet of Knives ups the ante to eleven. The Marble Armada aren’t quite what they seemed and, despite coming to the aid of our protagonists in the previous book, could now present a threat on a scale previously unseen.
The plot is tight and gripping, the chapters are short and the pace is fast. Gareth doesn’t mess around; his prose is crisp and incisive, not an ounce of fat on it, and yet it remains emotive and elegant.
We get more character development here too, and Gareth’s characters are some of the strongest I’ve read in sci-fi. Sal’s relationship with Alva Clay is explored in more depth, Trouble Dog wrestles with what it means to have a conscience and Ona Sudak is cast in an entirely new light, even given what we already knew about her. We also get the addition of a new cast of characters, Johnny Shultz and the crew of the Lucy’s Ghost. I was initially worried about this, as introducing new POV characters into an established world isn’t always done well.
I shouldn’t have worried. Course I shouldn’t. Gareth is a master of character-driven narrative; I had an immediate affinity with Shultz and his crew and felt myself rooting for all of them during the horrific plight they face while awaiting rescue by Sal and the gang.
Meanwhile, Embers of War hinted at gargantuan creatures inhabiting the hypervoid, but it was downplayed, passed off as a by-product of the evolutionary tendency of humans to pick shapes out of nothingness. But the Lucy’s Ghost is attacked by a large beast in the hypervoid and the Marble Armada hint at unseen enemies beyond our dimension attracted by death and destruction. Now, I’m not so sure those creatures are imaginary…
What I love about Fleet of Knives is that it doesn’t sit back, it builds on the foundations Gareth laid in Embers of War and propels itself forward to break new ground, upping the stakes and introducing an additional layer of cosmic horror that subtly pervades the entirety of this book without distracting from the main story.
Fleet of Knives is an incredible book. Gareth Powell has written a thrilling space opera that is simultaneously fun, horrifying, thought-provoking, heartbreaking and full of elegant prose. A worthy successor to Embers of War, this series continues to be some of the best science fiction out there right now.
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