BOOK REVIEW: Stars and Bones, by Gareth L. Powell

Rating: 3 out of 5.
  • Continuance (#1)
  • Published by Titan Books
  • Published on 1st March 2022
  • A post-apocalyptic space opera
  • 347 pages

At the moment of nuclear annihilation, humanity is saved by an angel. But this angel cares more for Earth than its inhabitants, and banishes humanity to wander the galaxy in great arks. Cast adrift in the universe, humanity soon comes to learn of its own insignificance . . .

This was an odd book for me. Usually when I give a book a three star review, it’s because the book is fairly middling. These are the books that entertain me, but don’t stick in my memory for very long. Plain average, in other words. Stars and Bones is average only in the sense that the good and the bad balance each other out. Because while there are some elements that I loved, there is also some stuff in here that didn’t work for me on any level.

If you’ve read Powell’s other work, you’ll know what he does well. Scrappy teams rollicking around on spaceships with sassy computers. Eryn King might be more of a lone wolf than the crew of the Trouble Dog, but she’s cut from the same cloth, and soon gathers a rather unusual crew about her. When an author returns to the same themes time and again, it generally means they get better at writing them. Had Eryn been the sole carrier of the narrative, I dare say this would have been a far stronger novel. Because while this follows the familiar pattern of alternating first-person accounts with the character helpfully named for each chapter, the structure of Stars and Bones is its greatest weakness.

Eryn’s chapters are great, and make up the majority of the book. But there are other viewpoints scattered randomly throughout. Furious Ocelot, the artificial intelligence, gets a couple, and these work fine. The same cannot be said for Tessa, who receives only a single chapter that adds nothing to the narrative save the need for an introductory piece of dialogue later on. Haruki is even worse served, with his chapters serving only to fill in historical background. One of these chapters doesn’t even have Haruki in it, and is essentially a history lesson that could surely have been given to another character. Even more baffling is how little Haruki has to do with the rest of the story. Remove him from the book, and precious little would change.

There are other flaws too, but these are more personal than structural. I’m not a huge fan of animal companions, so talking cat Sam fell flat for me. Then there’s the political aspect. Now, I read books from authors across the political spectrum. if I only read authors with whom I agreed, I would have a very small library. And while I don’t buy into the idea that art is inherently political, I think there is a place in literature for political discussion. Particularly in the socially minded branches of science fiction. Stars and Bones doesn’t offer a discussion. It shakes its head and tuts and conservatism, and mocks the excesses of capitalism. Had it been a character doing this, all would be well and good. But as the same perspective comes from multiple characters without argument of discourse, it feels more like the author’s opinions bleeding through. Even when I agree with an author’s politics, I don’t enjoy seeing it on the page like this. It doesn’t matter if you’re in the choir, preaching can still be annoying.

These issues are a real shame, because they drag down what is otherwise a good book. The interpersonal relationships (even the obligatory romance) are well-handled. The writing is clean, the action is exciting, the idea of a spacefaring humanity in exile is a great one. There’s a Dyson Sphere! Do you know how much I’d give to see more Dyson Spheres in science fiction? It’s a lot. That bumps the book up a star all by itself.

If you’ve enjoyed Powell’s other work, there’s a good chance you’ll like this one too. Unfortunately, it missed the mark for me.

If you enjoyed this book, you might also like:
The Recollection, by Gareth L. Powell
Embers of War, by Gareth L. Powell
Shards of Earth, by Adrian Tchaikovsky

Published by Alex Hormann

I'm a writer, reader, and farmer, with an interest in all things speculative.

2 thoughts on “BOOK REVIEW: Stars and Bones, by Gareth L. Powell

  1. Agree about the politics, it’s like reading about any social issue – it has to come across as discourse or events within the novel that make sense, not just someone shoving their opinions at me 😳

    Animal companions are the best thing ever though 😂😂😂

    Like

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