My book review backlog is building ever greater. One series of books I have been reading, that I really must tell you about, is Embers of War by Gareth L. Powell. So far there are just two books, Embers of War and Fleet of Knives—both space opera of the highest order. There’s a great mix of exploration, politics, and action, similar to that of Long Way to a Small Angry planet by Becky Chambers.
Here are five reasons why you should read Embers of War. But don’t just take my word for it; Embers of War recently won a BSFA award for best novel!
1. Great Characters
The ensemble cast of humans and aliens in Embers of War is excellent: flawed, irritating, heroic, selfless, selfish, and a whole lot more. These books work because of the interplay between the characters. Powell uses multiple first-person perspectives, which is a very interesting device. Each of the voices is rich and strong, and I never felt I wanted one point of view more than another.
One narrator’s account, given by an alien ship’s engineer, Nod, is stark and curiously beautiful. Nod is a “Druff,” and his world view (and that of his kin) is the cement that holds the other stories together, particularly in Fleet of Knives.
2. Sentient Spaceships
The other awesome characters in the novels are the spaceships. Sentient and grown from the stem cells of deceased humans, the spaceships in the book are incredibly well-realized. Much of the novel’s excellence hinges on the ships’ personalities and the interplay with their human crew.
3. Cracking Suspense
There is mystery and skulduggery across these books. Powell knows exactly how to ramp up the tension, relax it a little, then pile it back on for greater effect. I read these books late into the night, desperate to find out what would happen next.
4. It’s Thoughtful
The books are set after a cataclysmic interplanetary war. The prologue of Embers of War describes an act of breathtaking destruction, one which brings to an end a huge conflict. Justified or war crime? Tensions between the novels’ factions are strong, with the threat of death and war looming. The books meditate on the notion of war, justice, and peacekeeping—the weariness of living in a constant state of threat. Like most good science fiction, it’s possible to see real-world parallels in the story’s overarching themes.
5. It’s Moving
Powell is a brutal author. He makes you care for his creations, but he’s happy to leave you crushed by taking them out. His dialogue and interplay not only make you care for the characters as individuals but also the effect their removal/death/treachery has on the other characters too. You grieve for their loss; that’s a testament to Powell’s excellent character writing.
Embers of War is top-notch space opera. I haven’t demolished two books so swiftly in for a very long time. Great characters resolving their journies against a politically charged backdrop make these novels addictive must-reads.
If you enjoyed this review, do check out my other “5 Reasons to Read reviews.” You may particularly enjoy The Stars Now Unclaimed by Drew Williams.
If you like to pick up a copy of the Embers of War novels, you can do so here in the US and here in the UK.
Disclosure: I received a copy of this book in order to write this review.