Book Review: Embers Of War by Gareth L Powell


I’m mixing a bit of slice of life commentary about how I discovered this book and the events in my life that surrounded buying it. This is my blog after all and not goodreads. If all you care is the review, then scroll down until you find the review section. If all you want is a TL;DR, then let it be known that I really liked it and am looking forward to buying the other ones.

Kobo Mini is an underappreciated eReader...
Kobo Mini is an underappreciated eReader...

Some context about my love of Iain M Banks books

I think that before talking about Gareth L Powell’s book, I need to spend some time talking about my love for the Science Fiction of Iain M Banks. I got my first book by Iain by chance, I was doing a long travel from the U.S. back to Brazil and needed something to read on the plane. A title at the airport bookshop pulled my attention in: The Algebraist.

That book took me by surprise and ignited my love for Iain’s work. Soon, I was hooked on his Culture novels and devoured them all. His universe was so fresh, the ideas behind it so clever. Oh, and the ships, don’t get me started on them, I could go for hours. I was deeply saddened when he passed away, and to this day I remember exactly what I was doing when I saw the news.

Later, I discovered other British Science Fiction authors that I really liked, but still I’ve been missing something similar to The Culture for a while. I don’t mean that I want a clone, or The Culture fan fiction (which is probably great, but not what I’m looking for at the moment), but something that had a bit of similar flavour. If I should summarise what this flavour means, I’d say:

  • Artificial Intelligence on ships and robots that goes beyond what a normal human capacity.
  • Stories in which the humans, even though paired with AI characters, are still protagonists of their own arcs and not just a useless plot accessory.
  • Proper Space Operas that even when telling a small, focused, and localised story is still affected by the events and dynamics of large galaxy-spanning events.

I don’t want just to read something and think this is just The Culture with another name, I want something new but that impacts me similarly. That’s brings us back to Mr Gareth L Powell.

How I found out Embers of War

One of my small pleasures in this pandemic is taking long walks in London and maybe going to large book shops to pick a book or five. I’m very fond of coffee carts and the small squares and gardens they have in Islington and Bloomsbury, so I’ll often take my kobo around to read while drinking coffee. It was by checking out coffee carts in London that I discovered the marvellous Lever & Bloom near Byng Place. My love of their espresso and cinnamon buns has a direct correlation to my discovery of Gareth’s books. I’ve been going to Byng Place to enjoy some quiet and tasty buns on a weekly basis, and when the bookshops reopened, I decided to go without my Kobo and check out the large Waterstones they have there. What more could I want? There is coffee, buns, books, and a quiet green square near the archeology institute.

There was a huge selection of Science Fiction and Fantasy books at that Waterstones. I’ve been on a binge of fantasy books lately and missed reading a good Sci Fi book. I didn’t had my TBR list with me, so I was a bit lost, which is how I usually discover my favourite stuff to be honest.

What draw my eyes to Gareth’s book was the cover. The curator at that section, placed one of Gareth’s books with the cover showing instead of the spine like most others. I thought it was pretty and picked it up. He had me at Trouble Dog. I read the ships name, and knew I was going to buy the book.

I knew nothing about him or his books. The blurb on the back had the correct flavour that I’ve been missing since Iain passed away. I took a photo of the cover and decided to research a bit before buying (I was already carrying three other books).

Couple days later, with my research done, I was looking forward to buying his book. Instead of walking all the way to Bloomsbury, I decided to go buy his book at the small Waterstones in Angel. They didn’t had it. They didn’t had any book by Gareth there. Now, I consider that a failure of curation to be honest, there absolutely should be one of his books there.

Not wanting to waste the sunshine outside, I picked my Kobo, purchased the eBook and went to read on the square in front of Waterstones with a nice flat white.

What a ride that book was!

The actual book review

I finished reading it over a pint.
I finished reading it over a pint.

As mentioned above, this book ticked the correct emotions and tropes I wanted to read about. I really like how much of the setting is implied instead of explained. We end up not knowing much about the generality, or even the multiplicity, but what few facts and impressions we know speaks volume.

By implying a setting, the author moves the book at a faster pace than if he had to stop to do infodumps and explain every tidbit. This makes the book feel thriller-ish in parts and this has been a very good call. Makes for a faster read when you need to know what happens next.

The characters are well realised and I’m quite happy with most of them, even though I find that the arc for Ashton Childe moves too fast, I would have preferred if the last part of his arc would have moved a bit slowed or occupied a larger space of his arc (trying really hard not to do any spoiler here). I understand that this would affect pacing, so it was probably the correct thing to do, and it doesn’t diminish my enjoyment of the book.

Found families are a trope that is well beloved and quite common in Fantasy, but that I don’t often see in Science Fiction. I really like how it was realised on this book with the members of the House of Reclamation and how each one had a backstory that lead them through this path.

And the SHIPS!!! So fresh, at the same time super intelligences and angry pack of wolves. I liked everything about them. Trouble Dog is a great character with a well thought out arc and more important coherent actions. Very often I see in other books, AIs taking actions that are needed for the plot but completely incoherent with the character. I’m so happy this didn’t happened in this book.

Embers of War tells a story that is at the same time small and very large. You can revel in the implied setting and the mysteries hinted at, while still following a small crew trying their best at a rescue operation. I’d recommend this book for anyone who is a Science Fiction, there is something for every one here.Maybe if all you like is Cyberpunk, this might not the best book for you, but if you have any fondness for Space Operas, AI ships, and just damn cool stories, grab this book.

I’m looking forward to reading the other books in the series, and will keep an eye for Gareth’s books. As someone who is trying to become serious about creative writing, I’m sure I can learn a lot from his books.

If you like this review and want to buy a copy of the book, consider using my affiliated link, you don’t pay anything extra, but I get a small commission which helps me a lot: Buy Embers of War by Gareth L Powell at Amazon.

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