BOOK REVIEW: Light of Impossible Stars, by Gareth L. Powell

-Major spoilers for Embers of War and Fleet of Knives

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Publisher: Titan

Series: Embers of War (#3)

Genre: Space Opera

Pages: 364

Publication Date: 18/02/2020

Verdict: 5/5

With a seemingly unstoppable armada of alien vessels tearing through civilised space, thins are looking pretty bleak for Trouble Dog and her crew. Heading for the one safe haven remaining, the battered and broken crew put everything on the line for one last throw of the dice . . .

One of my top discoveries of 2019, Gareth L. Powell’s epic yet intimate space opera trilogy comes to a close with Light of Impossible Stars. For one last time we join the sentient ex-warship Trouble Dog and her crew of broken humans. because that’s what this series is about, broken people trying to be whole again. Easily the most optimistic space opera I’ve ever read, warm friendly, inclusive, but never losing the sense of the epic that draws me to the genre.

When we last saw Trouble Dog, the ancient armada she had awoken were in the process of destroying anything that could lead to another war. A list of things that includes humanity and Trouble Dog herself. In this third volume we see the aftermath of these early efforts. A universe as broken as our characters. It’s set up early on that direct confrontation is an impossibility. Yes there are fights, and even a few Pyrrhic victories, but this isn’t a space opera where might makes right, or where great fleets clash over the fate of worlds. There is an element of that, but it’s largely off-page. When we do get a proper look at battles, it’s through the tight focus of Powell’s first-person narration, and the narrative is far more interested in the human consequences than a blow-by-blow account.

It’s the narration that is the main strength of the series. Way back in book one, I remarked that having multiple first-person perspectives was always risky, and that characters sometimes sounded the same. After three books, each voice now seems perfectly distinct. Even the new characters who’ve joined along the way are easily identifiable, and just as relatable. Yes, it’s a gamble, but for Powell it pays off in spades. Another gamble that pays of is having our usual protagonists absent for the first act of the book, favouring a new pair of protagonists. I have to admit, I was less than convinced by this sudden jump in narrative, but by the time this storyline connects with the journey of Trouble Dog, you can see how everything fits together.

The thing that sets this series apart from other crew dynamics is the sheer joy our heroes take in each other’s company. yes, it’s close to that Found Families trope that I hate so much, but it’s a nice break from the angst and distrust-driven crews that seem to fill the genre these days. In a way it reminds me of Star Trek. Yes, there is darkness and people don’t always agree, but when push comes to shove they are there for each other. For once it’s nice to see a crew that doesn’t splinter under pressure.

Light of Impossible Stars wraps everything up nicely, while still leaving room for more stories with the characters and setting. Easily the best British Space Opera of recent years, and a delight from start to finish.

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