Embers of War: A pleasant but forgettable space opera

Embers of War by Gareth L. Powell science fiction book reviewsEmbers of War by Gareth L. Powell science fiction book reviewsEmbers of War by Gareth L. Powell

Embers of War (2018), which is a finalist for the Locus Award for Best Science Fiction Novel, is the first book in Gareth L. Powell’s EMBERS OF WAR series. The story is set in the far future, after humans were welcomed into the Multiplicity.

In the prologue we meet Captain Sally (“Sal”) Konstanz and the sentient spaceship she captains, Trouble Dog. They belong to the House of Reclamation, an ancient organization that serves the Multiplicity by rescuing the crews and passengers of injured or stranded spaceships. Trouble Dog used to be a warship but after being ordered to nuke the planet Pelapatarn, killing a sentient forest and many people, Trouble Dog felt remorse and left the military.

Also aboard the Trouble Dog is a badass Rescue Specialist named Alva Clay and a non-human engineer named Nod. Their doctor, who died in an accident in the novel’s first scenes, has been replaced by a young medic named Preston who turns out to be worthless.

The House of Reclamation has sent Trouble Dog and its crew to find and rescue any survivors of a ship shot down in a mysterious star system called The Gallery where the seven planets were carved by an unknown race, 10,000 years ago, into shapes of objects. For example, one of the planets is shaped like a human brain.

On the way to find the downed ship, they pick up a couple of intelligence officers who are interested in the same wreck they’ve been sent to save. The reason this wreck is important is because one of the passengers is Ona Sudak, a famous poet. But what almost nobody knows is that Ona Sudak is not exactly who she’s pretending to be. She’s an important person who’s hiding from her past. When Trouble Dog arrives on the scene of the wreck, they discover that they are not the only party interested in finding Ona Sudak. This mission has turned out to be very dangerous.

Embers of War has some nice features such as complex characters, powerful women, sentient starships that were built from cloned human and dog DNA, and those carved planets. We only got to see one of the planets (“The Brain”), so there wasn’t much done with them in this installment, but they’ve got potential for some cool plots in the future. Another thing Powell does well here is to give us a feeling of the immense scale, age, and longevity of the universe and humanity’s merely recent arrival on the scene.

Except for the dog DNA and shaped planets, though, there wasn’t anything in Embers of War that I haven’t seen before and, unfortunately, I didn’t particularly care about any of Powell’s characters or any of the things they did. I wasn’t surprised or challenged in any way. I thought the story was forgettable. There’s nothing really wrong with Embers of War, but there’s also nothing really right about it, either.

Blackstone Audio’s version, which is 10.5 hours long, was read by Nicol Zanzarella, Amy Landon, Greg Tremblay, Soneela Nankani, and Natasha Soudek. I liked the cast of narrators and thought this was a good choice for this novel.

Published in 2018. A finalist for the Locus Award for Best Science Fiction Novel. The warship Trouble Dog was built and bred for calculating violence, yet following a brutal war, she finds herself disgusted by conflict and her role in a possible war crime. Seeking to atone, she joins the House of Reclamation, an organisation dedicated to rescuing ships in distress. But, stripped of her weaponry and emptied of her officers, she struggles in the new role she’s chosen for herself. When a ship goes missing in a disputed system, Trouble Dog and her new crew of misfits and loners, captained by Sal Konstanz, an ex-captain of a medical frigate who once fought against Trouble Dog, are assigned to investigate and save whoever they can. Meanwhile, light years away, intelligence officer Ashton Childe is tasked with locating and saving the poet, Ona Sudak, who was aboard the missing ship, whatever the cost. In order to do this, he must reach out to the only person he considers a friend, even if he’s not sure she can be trusted. What Childe doesn’t know is that Sudak is not the person she appears to be. Quickly, what appears to be a straightforward rescue mission turns into something far more dangerous, as Trouble Dog, Konstanz and Childe, find themselves at the centre of a potential new conflict that could engulf not just mankind but the entire galaxy. If she is to survive and save her crew, Trouble Dog is going to have to remember how to fight.

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KAT HOOPER, who started this site in June 2007, earned a Ph.D. in neuroscience and psychology at Indiana University (Bloomington) and now teaches and conducts brain research at the University of North Florida. When she reads fiction, she wants to encounter new ideas and lots of imagination. She wants to view the world in a different way. She wants to have her mind blown. She loves beautiful language and has no patience for dull prose, vapid romance, or cheesy dialogue. She prefers complex characterization, intriguing plots, and plenty of action. Favorite authors are Jack Vance, Robin Hobb, Kage Baker, William Gibson, Gene Wolfe, Richard Matheson, and C.S. Lewis.

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5 comments

  1. I’ve liked his other books. I guess they can’t all be hits.

  2. David Currie /

    Well I obviously found this a more memorable and deeper reading experience than you-each to their own! I haven’t read much space opera recently so what you saw as tired tropes pleased me & seemed fresh & cool.I got a buzz when Trouble Dog hid *inside* the sun-wow!

    • One of the things I love about our site is that we have so many opinions.

    • Hi David, thanks for engaging with me on this here and at Twitter. I wouldn’t say “tired tropes” — they’re not yet tired — but I am always hoping for something new and original when I read science fiction, especially if it’s the beginning of a new series. The only thing I found new here was the carved planets, which I did think were really cool. Are they explored more in the sequel?

      • David Currie /

        I guess this was the first sf I had read in a while as I said,I more often read fantasy so it all seemed fresher than it did for you.I find some sci-fi intimidating & this was easy to read and manageable in terms of how much you needed to know without being too basic,it gave me my sci-fi shot.The Gallery isn’t gone back to in the sequel,once the anciant Armada is recovered from it it’s served it’s purpose in the plot but honest there are other cool things in it!

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