Sunday, March 15, 2020

Review: Light of Impossible Stars by Gareth L. Powell

Title: Light of Impossible Stars
Author: Gareth L. Powell
Pages: 364
ISBN: 9781785655241
Publisher: Titan Books
Published: 18 February 2020
Genre: Science Fiction
Source: Purchased


Buy it from:
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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 civilisation 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 artefacts 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?

After reading Embers of War I absolutely fell in love with Trouble Dog, a sassy sentient spaceship with attitude in spades and her small crew of flawed, traumatised people as they try to make amends for their violent pasts by saving lives instead of taking them. Embers of War was a great introduction to some fascinating characters, a universe filled with endless promise and an ending that hinted at a discovery that could change their civilization forever.

I couldn’t wait to dive into the second book, Fleet of Knives, but by the time I was ready to pick it up the release of Light of Impossible Stars was so near I decided to wait just a bit longer in order to binge the rest of the trilogy in one go.

"You could have been a bit less blunt."
"I’m a warship, Captain. I don’t do 'less blunt'".

Fleet of Knives was an enjoyable read, but it felt like an interlude with groundwork being laid for something bigger and better. A quintessential example of middle book syndrome. It was great to fly with Trouble Dog again, but it just didn’t captivate me to the same extent as the impressive Embers of War. This time around the alien engineer Nod absolutely stole the show and overshadowed everyone else with a cuteness overload.

Light of Impossible Stars, the final book in the trilogy, is very different in tone from Embers of War and things quickly take a very dark turn. As everything falls apart around them the Trouble Dog and her crew are thrust into a struggle for survival, not just for themselves but for humanity as a whole. What difference can one ship even make?
"And still the carnage went on. It permeated our dreams and flavoured the food we forced ourselves to eat. We were impotent witnesses out here, beyond the borders of human-explored space, unable to influence the apocalypse as it played out in second-hand, static-jagged fragments. Nothing we could do or say could possibly save any of the souls tipping relentlessly into the dark; and yet we couldn’t turn away. This was our catastrophe as much as anyone’s; on this day, we were all simply human beings cowering from an implacable force of nature - the latest in a series of bottlenecks that had tried, over the millennia, to winnow our species to nothing." (page 22)
I had high hopes for the trilogy and I really wanted to love Light of Impossible Stars, but unfortunately it fell short of my expectations. I was here for Trouble Dog and her crew. I wanted to know their story and how they could possibly beat the impossible odds they face. Unfortunately the narrative shifts away from Trouble Dog and instead focuses on the introduction of Cordelia Pa, and other brand new characters who could hold the keys to humanity’s survival. This shift felt jarring to me and while I enjoyed Cordelia’s story it sidelined the characters I had the biggest bond with. It almost felt as if the Trouble Dog and her crew were demoted to supporting character status in their own novel.

As always Trouble Dog and Nod kept stealing the show from their human counterparts and they are somehow even more endearing this time round. Trouble Dog still brings all the sass and attitude to the party, but she has also grown immensely from the first novel exhibiting more humanity and compassion as she learns how to deal with loss and grief.  Her crew becomes her found family and it's this bond which makes it such an engaging read. Nod provides some much needed comic relief with its constant exasperation at the Hound of Difficulty's recklessness adding even more damage for it to repair.

Light of Impossible Stars is a very fast read. The pacing is relentless, leaving you breathless by the time you reach the final confrontation. There are moments of joy, sadness and poignant redemption, but they almost go by in a blur not leaving enough time for things to sink in. The ending is satisfying and the last chapter hints at even more adventures to come for Trouble Dog.

My biggest criticism of Light of Impossible Stars, and the trilogy as a whole, is that it favours action over depth. The relentless pace of the story doesn’t leave enough room to explore the impact and implications of events and revelations on the characters. Taking the time to do so would’ve made the story a far richer, more emotional experience and elevated it from a very good read to something far more impactful.

Should you pick up the Embers of War Trilogy? Hell, yes! The Hound of Difficulty demands it!

The Verdict:
Light of Impossible Stars offers a satisfying conclusion to the Embers of War trilogy, but doesn’t quite live up to its full potential. The introduction of brand new characters this late in the series shifts the focus away from Trouble Dog and her crew and leaves little room to fully explore the consequences of events, diminishing the impact of the story somewhat. It's still a very good read offering loads of action and some truly memorable characters. If more adventures await the Trouble Dog I’ll definitely be along for the ride!

The Rating: 7/10 (Very Good)

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