Tuesday 18 February 2020

"The Light Of Impossible Stars" Shines Brightly

Compulsively readable, The Light Of Impossible Stars is the engaging capstone to Gareth Powell’s
Image via Amazon.com
delightful Embers Of War trilogy.

Following the events of Embers Of War and Fleet of Knives, this concluding novel finds the crew of the Trouble Dog and their allies fleeing from the ancient alien armada they unleashed over the previous two books.

Each sequel in the Embers Of War trilogy takes a hard 90 degree turn from the previous book, both thematically and narratively. The universe changes and lines of conflict are redrawn, providing characters with opportunities to explore loss, grief, and redemption.

The rapid-fire short chapter structure of these novels, along with the breezy first-person narration, continues to provide momentum. Although some point-of-view characters (Nod, Trouble Dog) stand out for their noticeably different voices, there are times when other narrators sound confusingly similar in approach.

More than the previous volumes, The Light Of Impossible Stars seems to oscillate between the military SF subgenre, and the xenoarchaeology subgenre. While the chapters dedicated to Trouble Dog’s crew are largely the former, the introduction of a new setting and a new protagonist, Cordelia Pa, gives Powell the chance to don an Indiana Jones fedora.

One of the most delightful aspects of the Embers Of War trilogy has been revelling in the quirky xenoarchaeology locations and artefacts: The Gallery, The Marble Armada, The Generation Ship “Restless Itch for Foreign Soil.” The chapters featuring Cordelia Pa delve deeper into these ancient aliens and big dumb objects in space, than either previous book does.

Set on a series of artificial metal worlds called “The Plates,” Pa’s adventures (and those of her
Gareth Powell has a reputation for
being one of the nicest people on Twitter.
(Image via Twitter)  
brother) provide welcome details of the now-long-extinct Hearther civilization, and a perspective on what life is like outside of the House of Redemption. It is evident that the author has put a lot of care and thought into the history of this universe. This care pays off in The Light Of Impossible Stars.

There are portions of the novel that seem extraneous to the overall plot; Trouble Dog’s detour to the Druff homeworld seemed irrelevant, and the few chapters dealing with Cordelia Pa’s brother Michael feel a little out-of-place. Thankfully, the short chapters and accessible prose keep the narrative pace up even during these odd detours.

One of the great joys of getting invested in a well-planned and thoughtfully crafted trilogy like this one is seeing the characters grow and evolve over time. Powell has the storytelling maturity and courage to guide readers through character actions with drawn-out consequences that resonate across multiple novels. Easy resolutions to character arcs are avoided, creating tension and moments of drama.

As a trilogy, Embers Of War deserves a place on Hugo ballot for Best Series. Works like this — ones that use the longer-form series arc to craft stories that wouldn’t hold up in in shorter-form works — are exactly the sort of work that should be honoured in that category.

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