I recently received an advanced reading copy of Gareth L. Powell’s new book Embers of War, the first book of a new trilogy. The ship, Trouble Dog, whose brain has been created partly from human cells, has gotten disgusted with war and has resigned her commission and joined a rescue operation. Having been decommissioned, she has had the bulk of her weaponry removed, keeping only defensive weapons. While on a rescue mission, Trouble Dog acquires two passengers, also on a rescue mission. They are looking for a poet who vanished when the ship she was a passenger on was shot down.
There are complications. The two passengers Trouble Dog picks up are intelligence agents for opposite sides of a struggle that has been going on for years. The new medic barely has enough training to change a band-aid and suffers from homesickness. The ship’s mechanic, an alien, understands everything except people. The one actual crew member the captain has dislikes many of the decisions she makes. And those are just the handicaps Captain Sal Konstanz starts out with. Oh, yes, and she might be facing reprimand, demotion, or expulsion from the service for a decision she made while attempting a rescue prior to the current mission.
So, you can see there is plenty of dramatic tension here.
Powell is a powerful writer, His writing is spare, with no wasted words and little embellishment. He gives us the straight story, harsh as it may be. His war is not romantic; it’s ugly – the way real war is ugly. It has needless deaths, wasted potential, and exposes the legacies of war – and not just the war in the book. It makes you think about the legacies that we live with today from past wars and the possible legacies of wars that may be all too damned close to happening in the near future.
It’s a good book. It makes you think. The characters are well-drawn. The writing is transparent and does not get in the way of the story. Oh, and did I mention it makes you think? You should read this book even if military SF is not your thing. You may not love it; it may make you uncomfortable; still, you should read this book.
The press release that accompanied Embers of War likened it to “Firefly meets Ancillary Justice.” I would compare it to crossing Anne McCaffrey’s “The Ship Who…” books crossed with David Feintuch’s “Seafort Saga” series (which is one of the best examples of military sf that I have read).