Embers of War (2018), which is a finalist for the Locus Award for Best Science Fiction Novel, is the first book in Gareth L. Powell’s EMBERS OF WAR series. The story is set in the far future, after humans were welcomed into the Multiplicity.
In the prologue we meet Captain Sally (“Sal”) Konstanz and the sentient spaceship she captains, Trouble Dog. They belong to the House of Reclamation, an ancient organization that serves the Multiplicity by rescuing the crews and passengers of injured or stranded spaceships. Trouble Dog used to be a warship but after being ordered to nuke the planet Pelapatarn, killing a sentient forest and many people, Trouble Dog felt remorse and left the military.
Also aboard the Trouble Dog is a badass Rescue Specialist named Alva Clay and a non-human engineer named Nod. Their doctor, who died in an accident in the novel’s first scenes, has been replaced by a young medic named Preston who turns out to be worthless.
The House of Reclamation has sent Trouble Dog and its crew to find and rescue any survivors of a ship shot down in a mysterious star system called The Gallery where the seven planets were carved by an unknown race, 10,000 years ago, into shapes of objects. For example, one of the planets is shaped like a human brain.
On the way to find the downed ship, they pick up a couple of intelligence officers who are interested in the same wreck they’ve been sent to save. The reason this wreck is important is because one of the passengers is Ona Sudak, a famous poet. But what almost nobody knows is that Ona Sudak is not exactly who she’s pretending to be. She’s an important person who’s hiding from her past. When Trouble Dog arrives on the scene of the wreck, they discover that they are not the only party interested in finding Ona Sudak. This mission has turned out to be very dangerous.
Embers of War has some nice features such as complex characters, powerful women, sentient starships that were built from cloned human and dog DNA, and those carved planets. We only got to see one of the planets (“The Brain”), so there wasn’t much done with them in this installment, but they’ve got potential for some cool plots in the future. Another thing Powell does well here is to give us a feeling of the immense scale, age, and longevity of the universe and humanity’s merely recent arrival on the scene.
Except for the dog DNA and shaped planets, though, there wasn’t anything in Embers of War that I haven’t seen before and, unfortunately, I didn’t particularly care about any of Powell’s characters or any of the things they did. I wasn’t surprised or challenged in any way. I thought the story was forgettable. There’s nothing really wrong with Embers of War, but there’s also nothing really right about it, either.
Blackstone Audio’s version, which is 10.5 hours long, was read by Nicol Zanzarella, Amy Landon, Greg Tremblay, Soneela Nankani, and Natasha Soudek. I liked the cast of narrators and thought this was a good choice for this novel.