Embers of War by Gareth L. Powell

How could Sal Konstanz take command of an interstellar warship named Trouble Dog and expect anything less than trouble? Trouble is exactly what she gets in this fun, witty, and intelligent space opera from Gareth L. Powell.

Image of Embers of War book jacket

Title: Embers of War
Author: Gareth L. Powell
Publisher: Titan Books, 2018
Audiobook: Blackstone Publishing, 2018
Reading time: 10h 40m

After failing to rescue the crew of the crashed ship Hobo—and losing the ship’s medic in the process—Komstanz’s off-course career is given one final chance. Responding to a luxury liner’s distress call, she and the Trouble Dog depart for the mysterious Gallery, a star system in which entire planets were sculpted by an ancient and forgotten race.

All the characters in Embers of War struggle with an inner turmoil. Ona Sudak, hiding from an unspeakably horrific past, finds herself stranded on one of the Gallery’s sculpted planets as her past catches up to her. Ashton Childe, a Conglomerate agent desperate to get away from a pointless civil war, battles physical injury and drug addiction to complete his mission. And the new medic, Preston is far too young and inexperienced to participate in the interstellar journey his overbearing father forced upon him. Powell ties these characters and their stories together in a way that draws the reader deeply into their lives.

Finding a protagonist among these interwoven storylines can be a challenge, but my vote goes to the sentient warship Trouble Dog. Part artificial intelligence, part stem cell-derived neural network, Trouble Dog is an intimidating spaceship with a clear picture of right and wrong. Forced to participate in a war atrocity at the start of the book, Trouble Dog resigns her commission and joins the House of Reclamation, an intergalactic rescue organization dedicated to assisting spaceships in distress. Although dedicated to peaceful missions, she still relishes a good fight, as long as it’s just.

By saying nothing, Nod manages to say pretty much everything.

But the most interesting character is the alien Nod, the sole member of the Trouble Dog’s maintenance crew, who toils selflessly in isolation to fix short circuits and breached hull plates. Avoiding the story’s spotlight, Nod constantly mumbles to himself in monologue, a sort of six-limbed off-stage narrator providing running commentary. By saying nothing, Nod manages to say pretty much everything.

Set in the distant future, Embers of War’s interstellar travels, anti-matter tipped missiles, alien contact, and extra-dimensional spaces should fill the stomachs of even the hungriest space opera fanatics. Powell keeps the tension high throughout the story, climaxing in a suspenseful battle between two spacecraft that occurs simultaneously in both virtual reality and the boiling plasma of a star’s photosphere. This scene alone should have Hollywood filmmakers fighting each other for movie rights.

I read the audiobook from Blackstone Publishing, which makes great use of multiple narrators to convey Powell’s well-crafted multiple point-of-view story.

First of a trilogy, Embers of War’s follow-on novels are expected out soon. So squeeze between the plates of your ship’s hull, curl up in a good nest of bubble wrap and broken spatulas, and enjoy this wonderful story by Gareth L. Powell.

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