Review: FLEET OF KNIVES by Gareth L. Powell

Book Reviews

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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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Interview with Gareth L. Powell


Hi Gareth, welcome to Parsecs & Parchment and thanks so much for doing a Q&A with us. Your current EMBERS OF WAR series is some of my favourite science fiction out there right now, could you tell us a bit about it?

Embers follows the fortunes of a number of characters who were involved in an interstellar war as they struggle to come to terms with their experiences. One of these is a decommissioned warship named Trouble Dog, who has accidentally grown a conscience.

And for a series featuring multiple alien races and galaxy-spanning interdimensional conflict, your characters deal with some deeply personal issues, such as coping with guilt and striving for redemption. How important is it for you to ground your characters like this in such a vast and complicated setting?

I wanted to place characters with literary depth into a pulp setting. I have never seen any reason why science fiction can’t explore our shared human experience to the same depth as mainstream literature.

And the sentient spaceship Trouble Dog is just as deep as any human character. How much fun did you have writing Trouble Dog?

Trouble Dog is a very conflicted character, constantly torn between her newly emerging conscience and her in-built function as an instrument of war. That made her huge fun to write, because in every situation you’re never quite sure which part of her will rise to the surface. And also because she’s struggling with those feelings of wanting to know where she belongs, to which we can all relate.

A lot of male authors write notoriously bad female characters, but Embers of War features a diverse cast of well-rounded, fully realised women. How do you think you avoid writing the caricatures many male writers are guilty of?

I observe, I don’t assume. All the women I know are strong, well-rounded individuals. They don’t behave like the wilting damsels of 1950s B movies. So, when I sit down to write, the characters in my imagination are every bit as real and fully formed as those I know in real life. I also think (and this sounds pretentious-as-hell when I say it aloud) that I’m quite in touch with my feminine side. I don’t see women as different or somehow foreign. We’re all human underneath. And to be honest, if you can write from the perspective of an alien from Alpha Centauri, you should be able to write from the perspective of another member of your own species!

Well said! Do you have any books you’re currently raving about, one you’d recommend we all read?

I’ve read several great books recently, and would certainly recommend Noumenon by Marina Lostetter, Atlas Alone by Emma Newman, and Velocity Weapon by Megan O’Keefe.

Awesome, I’ll add them to my list! You have a reputation as The Nicest Man on Twitter. What motivates you to be such a positive force in the community?

There’s so much negativity online that I just got fed up with it all and decided to try to tip the balance a little more towards the light. So, I started offering to help people by answering questions and providing encouragement. And my followers really seem to have appreciated that. I’m a great believer that what you put out into the world comes back to you; so, if you want more positivity in your life, try radiating some.

Well thank you for radiating so much positivity. Finally, can you give any hints about what we can expect from the final instalment of the series, LIGHT OF IMPOSSIBLE STARS?

More epic space battles; a new love interest for Sal Konstanz; and a visit to Nod’s home world!

I can’t wait! Thanks again Gareth, it’s been an honour to talk to you.

EMBERS OF WAR and FLEET OF KNIVES are out now and the forthcoming LIGHT OF IMPOSSIBLE STARS is available for pre-order.