A literary space opera set in the aftermath of a universal conflict, Embers of War drives the reader toward a startling destination and inspiring finish. By combining a masterful prose style featuring multiple narrators with a richly devised word-building blueprint, Powell has created a cast of outstanding characters whose combined actions examine humanity and our place in the universe.
EMBERS OF WAR
Gareth L. Powell
Titan Books, 2018
5 out of 5 Robots
Following a devastating final battle of a universal war, we follow five narrators on a converging journey. A poet with a dark past. A captain at risk of losing her post. A ship trying to overcome her past transgressions. A spy desperate to leave his meager outpost. A crew member toiling in the bowels of the ship. Together, they fight for what they believe in, ending at a conflict that defines them all.
WHY I LOVED IT
I’m stunned at how well these five narrators worked together to weave this fascinating narrative. It can be difficult to follow a couple of narrators, and five seemed to really be pushing it. Somehow, Powell was able to pull it off flawlessly – no part of this book seemed unnecessary. Every character played its part in the story, each bleeding into the next, until they all came together at the surprising conclusion. I felt like I got to know these characters deeply, seeing their innermost struggles as they pulled upon their marred pasts to make tough decisions. Most worked for the greater good, some were looking out for themselves, and overall, they told a rich, full story.
THE SHIP AS A CHARACTER
This was my first sentient spaceship as a narrator. The concept is fascinating – without giving too much away, it involves a melding of human DNA directly into the ship, giving it sentience and the ability to make its own decisions. It has a dark past and is working tirelessly to atone for it. Seeing the ship grow, becoming more confident in her mission, was inspiring. She has a determined personality and her chapters were effortless in the best possible way.
THE LEVEL OF INTERNAL CONFLICT
We see so much of the narrators and their internal thought processes. From the beginning, we know about their lives and the variety of bad or questionable things they’re all trying to overcome. The book covers a trying time for all involved, and they’re forced to make hard decisions that test their morals and their place in the universe. It’s a war medic who wants so badly to belong to a force for good. It’s a spy who can’t stand his place in life, wanting nothing more than to have a purpose. The non-human crew member plays an integral role in the narration that doesn’t fully fit until the final chapters, creating an a-ha moment for me, complete with a smile. At the heart of this book is a discussion about conscience and what our decisions and actions mean about us as beings.
This is a case of beautiful world-building, without creating an information dump that’s hard to process. Powell starts with the end of a major war – it sets the tone for the many narrators and gives us a solid starting point for understanding how this version of the universe came to be. A neutral group of vessels dedicated to saving those in need provides the moral compass of the book. We see well-thought-out races and planets, and a breathtaking usage of unknown alien technology that gave me goosebumps near the end. Needless to say, I was a huge fan of everything Powell created.
This is a mild spoiler – it happens at the very beginning. I was so heartbroken over the decimation of the forest, the conflict that kicks off the story. I’ve read so many accounts of wars and battles in sci-fi, but this one really got to me. They were helpless to save themselves, and the entire race was extinguished. Powell reminds us of this atrocity consistently throughout the book, and it keeps the conflict, and the stakes, at the forefront.
Intergalactic War, Space Travel, Spaceships, Sentience, Human Conscience
WHERE TO BUY
Powell, Gareth L. Embers of War. Titan Books, 2018.