Skip to main content

“And yet, despite my misgivings, I felt a certain wild joy. I was a heavy cruiser, a machine of death and conflict. Hiding, no matter how pressing the strategic necessity, felt like cowardice. I had done it because I had to; but now I was rising to meet my foe head-on, and I had forgotten how heady and intoxicating it could feel. I was charging the enemy from the depths of a furnace, my hull glowing and my torpedo tubes primed and ready to fire. What could be more glorious?”

Embers of War is a military space opera that follows Trouble Dog, a reformed sentient warship haunted by the ghosts of her past. Now she works for the House of Reclamation, an organisation built on the foundations of peace who work to help lost and abandoned people and ships throughout the galaxy. Along with Trouble Dog’s crew, lead by captain Sal Konstanz, she is drawn into a dangerous situation that could spark another war and end the tentative peace that she long ago fought for.

Powell has written a rip-roaring space opera that moves along at a brisk pace, with dynamic action scenes interspersed with well-balanced character arcs. The universe that the story is set in as a imaginatively created, with interesting future technology, much of which is focused on sentience and AI, but also is light enough to not swing to heavy into hard sci-fi.

What I particularly loved about Embers of War was Powell’s approach to non-human characters. Trouble Dog, the sentient ship, comes through with oodles of personality and wit. Despite having light speed reactions in battle and a superior strategic mind, she is still susceptible to mistakes and a human fallibility that made the character really come alive in my head. Our other non-human character is a curious but endearing alien creature called Nod, who is the engineer onboard the Trouble Dog. Powell gives him a pattern of speech that is staccato and abstract, really giving him a distinct voice amongst the other characters.

In fact, the author manages to give all the POVs, five in total, their own specific personality and clear voice. Though I will add, that all five POVs are written in first person, and I did find it a little disorientating at first, but after the first few chapters, it was easy enough for me to slide into the different headspaces of the individual characters. Anyone who is not a fan of the first-person perspective might struggle to get along with this, given the amount of POVs here.

I loved the found family aspect to the crew. Each of them are still getting to know each other, navigating through each others strength and weaknesses, as well as battling with their own egos and flaws. For instance, Sal Konstanz and her next in command, Alva Clay, must overcome their own cultural prejudices if they are to work as a team and successfully complete their mission. This relationship was one of my favourite in the book.

Powell interrogates several questions and themes in this book that I found personally satisfying and fascinating. He approaches the question of identity, particularly the identity of a soldier and how they cope with life outside of war as well as its repercussions, both internal and societal. What does it mean to be human? This is a fascinating question that science fiction often asks and Powell certainly brings that into the internal thoughts of Trouble Dog. The idea of past trespasses and redemption is also explored with several of the characters. Identity also bleeds into the notion of loyalty and taking sides, whether that be between individuals or opposing governments, in the case of Embers of War this is between the Conglomeration and the Outwards. This is played out particularly well between Ashton Childe and Laura Petruska who are on opposing sides but must confront their own loyalties and preconceived opinions in the face of imminent danger.

The author manages to create a tense race against time element of the story that brings a fantastic propulsion to the narrative and his descriptions of space battles and on the ground combat are both vivid and urgent. Trouble Dog in particular is an absolute badass in battle and there were several occasions where I pumped my fist in the air and give a victory yell.

Gareth Powell has managed to take a military space opera, with its usual cast of spaceships, grunting marines and heroic captains and injected it with rich and multi-layered characters battling with their own past and trying to find somewhere called home. The wonderful themes explored elevate the story and kept me thinking for days after. This is my favourite kind of science fiction; intelligent, thoughtful and asks questions of the human condition. Also, it has to be a damn fun space adventure. Embers of War is all of the above.

Embers of War

Embers of War

Embers of War

Embers of War

Embers of War

Embers of War

Embers of War

Embers of War

One Comment

Leave a Reply