Publisher: Titan

Series: Embers of War (#1)

Genre: Space Opera

Pages: 408

Publication Date: 2018

Verdict: 4/5

The war is over, but for the crew of Trouble Dog, and the ship herself, the struggle continues. Because without war, what good is a soldier?

Iain M. Banks is a towering figure in SF, respected, praised and generally loved. But when I see his name in a blurb, when an author is compared to him, it generally turns me off the book in question. There’s just something about his subgenre of space opera that rubs me the wrong way. The post-scarcity, transhuman, AI ships who are human in all but shape worldbulding just doesn’t do it for me. Embers of War uses many of the same tropes and storytelling tics as Banks, but to much better effect. This isn’t reminiscent of Banks, it’s an improvement on him.

Embers of War follows the intelligent warship Trouble Dog, now working for the House of Reclamation, an order of scavengers and good Samaritans who travel the Galaxy doing good deeds. But Trouble Dog is also haunted by the massacres she perpetrated during the war, trying to atone for them by helping others. In this, she is similar to her crew, almost all of whom are former soldiers from the sae war, though not necessarily from the same side of the conflict. The crew are rivals as much as friends, and there’s a real Killjoys vibe running through the book, which is never a bad thing.

In fact, for a book largely about trauma and the lasting damage caused by war, Embers of War is surprisingly hopeful. The characters aren’t afraid to crack a joke, even in dire circumstances. But it doesn’t cross the line into outright comedy either. The characters take themselves seriously, just as real people do. And while the worldbuilding is fairly standard, the characters are, generally speaking, a lot of fun to hang around with. They’re interesting, diverse, and complex. Everything you could hope for in a fictional character.

With regards to the worldbuilding, there isn’t a whole lot to say. Much of it is painted in broad strokes. There are several political entities, made up by the members of various human groups and alien races. The aliens never feel truly alien, but then we don’t see all that much of them. Nod, the only alien in the main cast, is at least noticeably not a human, and Powell avoids the Star Trek problem of aliens being humans in funny suits with bumpy foreheads. But the worldbuilding never feels particularly deep. There’s a lot on the surface, but very little deeper down. Aside from the one mystery that drives the plot, there’s no real sense of history.

That’s a minor concern though. As the first of a trilogy, Embers of War does a stellar job of setting the scene and introducing its main cast. There’s scope for growth, and that’s probably better than being bogged down in details so early on. It probably won’t take you long to read, but you’ll definitely want more afterwards. It’s addictive, popcorn SF, and there’s nothing wrong with that. Sometimes, a little lighthearted fun is exactly what you need from a book.

Overall, a promising start to a new trilogy, and a story that will soon be completed.

15 responses to “BOOK REVIEW: Embers of War, by Gareth L. Powell”

  1. THE SHAPE OF THINGS TO COME: Upcoming SF in 2020 – At Boundary's Edge Avatar

    […] 18 – Light of Impossible Stars (Gareth L. Powell): I only discovered Powell’s work this year, and the final Embers of War novel has shot to the top of my most-anticipated list. […]


  2. Brave New Worlds: Upcoming SF in 2021 – At Boundary's Edge Avatar

    […] by Gareth L. Powell & Peter F. Hamilton – While I’m not much of a Hamilton fan,Powell’s space opera is great stuff. I’m fascinated to see how their very different styles work […]


  3. TV REVIEW: Vagrant Queen – At Boundary's Edge Avatar

    […] dozens of time, from TV shows like Firefly, Dark Matter and Killjoys, to books like Dark Run and Embers of War. Vagrant Queen slots neatly into that style without any announcement, so that was enough for me to […]


  4. TBR and Beyond: June 2021 – At Boundary's Edge Avatar

    […] L. Powell’s most recent trilogy was great reading, so I’ve picked up a tenth anniversary edition of his debut. I don’t […]


  5. WRITING UPDATE: Themes I Keep Coming Back To – At Boundary's Edge Avatar

    […] feature a spaceship with a crew. This is rarer on the page, but The Expanse, Drew Williams, and Gareth L. Powell all show it can be pulled off.  This is a dynamic that speaks to my RPG background. Diverse casts […]


  6. TBR & BEYOND: August 2021 – At Boundary's Edge Avatar

    […] on the 24th we have Light Chaser, co-written by Gareth L. Powell and Peter F. Hamilton. These two have very different writing styles, so I’m interested to see […]


  7. BOOK REVIEW: The Recollection, by Gareth L. Powell – At Boundary's Edge Avatar

    […] stands as a foundation for the rest of Powell’s work. Though I’ve only read his Embers of War trilogy, many elements are familiar. Ancient civilisations, mismatched crews, ordinary people […]


  8. INCOMING FIRE: Upcoming SF in 2022 – At Boundary's Edge Avatar

    […] 15th: Stars and Bones #1: Stars and Bones, by Gareth L. Powell. The start of a new space opera series from the author of Embers of War. […]


  9. BOOK REVIEW: Stolen Earth, by J. T. Nicholas – At Boundary's Edge Avatar

    […] you enjoy this book? If so, you might also enjoy:The Cruel Stars, by John BirminghamEmbers of War, by Gareth L. PowellRe-Coil, by J. T. […]


  10. BOOK REVIEW: Eyes of the Void, by Adrian Tchaikovsky – At Boundary's Edge Avatar

    […] you enjoyed this book, you might also enjoy:Creation Engine, by Andrew BannisterEmbers of War, by Gareth L. PowellThe Stars Now Unclaimed, by Drew […]


  11. BOOK REVIEW: Stars and Bones, by Gareth L. Powell – At Boundary's Edge Avatar

    […] you enjoyed this book, you might also like:The Recollection, by Gareth L. PowellEmbers of War, by Gareth L. PowellShards of Earth, by Adrian […]


  12. BOOK REVIEW: The Fraxilly Fracas, by Douglas Hill – At Boundary's Edge Avatar

    […] you enjoyed this book and want something better, you might like:Dark Run, by Mike BrooksEmbers of War, by Gareth L. PowellThe Stars Now Unclaimed, by Drew […]


  13. HAILING FREQUENCIES OPEN: Upcoming SF in 2023 – At Boundary's Edge Avatar

    […] for this one looks really intriguing, and I’m hoping it lives up to the standards of his Embers of War […]


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