Gareth L. Powell’s Award-Winning Embers of War Trilogy End in the Light of Impossible Stars

The B&N Sci-Fi and Fantasy Blog

Gareth L. Powell’s Embers of War is a space opera that does everything right: it’s expansive in scope, but character-focused. It nods to genre tropes, but interrogates them too, considering the real-world ramifications of the lasting trauma of war. Oh, also: it has a great sentient starship. It quickly became a favorite of ours—not to mention the voters who handed it this year’s British Science Fiction Award for Best Novel—and our enthusiasm was not at all muted by the recent release of the just-as-good sequel Fleet of Knives.

As you can imagine, then, we’re pretty thrilled that publisher Titan Books has asked us to give you all a sneak peek at the cover of the third and final book in the series, Light of Impossible Stars, which arrives in early 2020. The cover is designed once again by Julia Lloyd, who has given the series a uniformly sleek feel we’re really digging.

And don’t click away after you’ve seen it—below the cover we’re also featuring a brief excerpt from the novel.

Next winter, the story of the Trouble Dog and co. ends, and we can’t wait to see what happens.

Low on fuel and hunted by the Fleet of Knives, the sentient warship Trouble Dog follows a series of clues that lead her to the Intrusion—an area of space where reality itself becomes unstable. But with human civilization crumbling, what difference can one battered old ship have against an invincible armada?

Meanwhile, Cordelia Pa and her step-brother eke out their existence salvaging artifacts from an alien city. But when Cordelia starts hearing the city’s song in her head, strange things start happening around her. What extraordinary affinity does she have for this abandoned technology, and how can it possibly help the Trouble Dog?

Award-winning author Gareth L. Powell delivers an explosive conclusion to his epic Embers of War trilogy.

An excerpt from the novel follows.

TROUBLE DOG

“So,” I asked, “what’s the object of this game?”

The Adalwolf smiled. “To win.”

We were sitting in a virtual environment—a recreation of the Palace of Versailles. Beyond the high windows, ornate gardens stretched away. Fountains sparkled in the clean white sunlight. Adalwolf had dressed his avatar in a dark silk robe. His bony wrists protruded from its sleeves. I had contented myself with my default option: a shaggy haired, androgynous-looking woman in a battered trench coat. A marble chessboard sat on the table between us.

“And how do you do that?”

“You capture your opponent’s king.”

“That’s this tall one?”

“Yes.”

“That’s it?”

“In essence, yes.”

“And what about these horsey ones?”

The Adalwolf gave a tight smile. “The knights.”

“Yes, I like those.” I leaned over the board and tapped one of the pieces in my first rank. “And these are the prawns?”

“Pawns.”

“And these cock-shaped ones?”

“Bishops.”

“Got it.”

“Are you ready to play?”

“I think so. Who goes first?”

“I do.”

Adalwolf reached out a thin arm and plucked a knight from the back row. He moved it over the pawns and placed it on its destined square.

I frowned in puzzlement.

Adalwolf sighed. “What’s the matter?”

“That’s it? That’s your move?”

“It’s a classic opening gambit.”

“It doesn’t seem to have achieved much.”

“I suppose you can do better?”

“Of course.” I leant back in my chair and cracked my knuckles over my head. I braced my feet against the tiled floor and grinned. “Watch this.”

I sprang forward. The fingers of my right hand jabbed Adalwolf in the throat. He started to fall backwards, and I flipped the table with my left. By the time the last marble pieces rattled down onto the floor, I was kneeling on his chest with his king held triumphantly in my hand.

“I win,” I said.

Adalwolf coughed, massaging his battered larynx. “You really don’t understand chess, do you?”

I sniffed and clambered to my feet. “On the contrary.” I let the marble king fall from my fingers. It bounced off his ribs with a hollow thump and rolled away across the floor. “You just don’t understand tactics.”

Preorder Light of Impossible Stars, available February 18, 2020.

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The Stakes are Higher and the Ships are Smarter in Gareth L. Powell’s Fleet of Knives

The B&N Sci-Fi and Fantasy Blog

Victory wasn’t the end. Isn’t that always the way it goes? Gareth L. Powell’s Fleet of Knives returns to the universe of his British Science Fiction Award-nominated Embers of War (also one of this blog’s favorite books of 2018). Following their success (or, at least, survival) at the Gallery, Sal Konstanz and the crew of the sentient, Carnivore-class ship Trouble Dog are back at work for the House of Reclamation, having once again foresworn conflict in favor of a commitment to rendering aid and assistance to ships in need.

From the very beginning, though, clouds loom on the horizon. On their last mission, Sal and company released the Marble Armada, a million-strong sentient alien fleet left behind by an intelligence that had long since fled the galaxy. Having reawakened the so-called Fleet of Knives, the crew also provided it with a mission: to ensure that nothing like the devastating Archipelago War could ever happen again.

Well, it sounded like a good idea at the time.

Like all well-intentioned wishes in literature, unexpected consequences follow. Recruiting poet, death row inmate, and one-time genocidal military commander Ona Sudak as a liaison, the fleet intends to impose strict order on the galaxy. It begins destroying every military and defense system among the known worlds, no matter who gets in the way. The fleet is perfectly happy to kill thousands or millions if the math suggests more lives will be saved in the longer term.

Meanwhile, newcomer Johnny Schultz and the small crew aboard the Lucy’s Ghost are planning a raid on an ancient artifact, a failed generation ship of the of the mysterious alien race the Nymtoq; the ship’s name translates to “The Restless Itch for Foreign Soil.” The spaceborne reliquary in their sights is both a tomb and a memorial for the Nymtoq; as such, it’s not something the aliens would be pleased to see desecrated. Nonetheless, there are doubtless riches beyond imagining there, waiting to be claimed by a brave and somewhat desperate team.

Again, unexpected consequences ensue: Lucy’s Ghost is damaged by… something during the journey, leading the crew to abandon the vessel for the Restless Itch, which proves to be hardly a refuge at all. Though Trouble Dog has received their distress call and is on the way, the same extra-dimensional incursion that damaged Lucy’s Ghost has deposited vicious, mindless creatures in the vicinity and drawn the attention of the Marble Fleet. Oh, and the much displeased Nymtoq are also on the way.

Last year, Embers of War impressed me in the way it balanced flashy space opera set-pieces with a deep humanity. That quality remains a core virtue here. The minds that make up the Marble Fleet act without anything resembling empathy, ending countless lives in a coldly logical plan to end suffering. The human characters reckon with the idea in different ways, some acknowledging that eliminating war might ultimately prove worth all those deaths, few willing to entirely ignore the staggering cost. In giving the book over to a rotating cast of point-of-view characters, Powell ensures the massive stakes never overwhelm the perspectives of individuals hoping to survive what ultimately turns into a siege, with dangers oncoming from at least three different sides.

What truly sets this series apart is the fact that this sense of “humanity” isn’t limited to the strictly human characters (or even those of flesh and blood). Trouble Dog’s very alien, quite long-suffering engineer Nod chimes in on the action, as does a hybrid intelligence existing in the body of a young girl. At the heart of it all is Trouble Dog, sentient spaceship par excellence. Still haunted by her actions as a warship, Trouble Dog’s past and burgeoning sense of self place her at the moral center of this universe.

As did the first book in this series, this sequel delivers big-stakes space opera told on an intimate scale. Amid the big questions of morality and the dire threats facing the characters, the brisk pacing and sense of adventure make Fleet of Knives a fun and fulfilling read in the best space-opera tradition.

Fleet of Knives: An Embers of War Novel is available February 19.

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