Stars and Bones is a creative introduction to Gareth Powell’s new series, in which he presents big ideas, dark themes and a good dose of imagination.
Author – Gareth L. Powell
Pages – 400
Publishing Information – Titan Books, 1st March 2022
After reading Gareth Powell’s Embers of War trilogy, I was really excited to start Stars and Bones (thankyou to Lydia Gittins and Titan for the arc copy and having me on the tour!).
I wondered if it could possibly live up to my favourite sci-fi book so far which was the first of the above mentioned trilogy, the titular Embers of War.
As it turns out, there were parts of this book that really exceeded my expectations, plenty of entertainment along the way and some things that went in a completely different direction than I was expecting.
I will always admire the author’s big ideas and his willingness to go in any direction he wants to. Sometimes his ideas feel hard sci-fi and scientific, while often too, especially here, he shrugs this away and introduces ideas that don’t always play by the rules with a more softer type of sci-fi.
This is fiction afterall, so in many ways it’s nice to be able to have our inner child satisfied with imaginative, slightly ‘out there’ ideas.
If you’re a reader who prefers science fiction that deals with things that feel pretty plausible, parts of this book might not work for you. An ‘angel’-like alien being saving humanity from killing itself by disarming all the nukes simultaneously (not a spoiler – it happens at the beginning) is perhaps more on the fantasy side, as is a talking cat whose thought processes are just as complex as a human’s.
I would challenge anyone not to enjoy the very funny Sam the cat, a perfect personification of the way we see a cat’s mind working in our modern day meme culture. Although these elements might not quite align with some of the more believable aspects of the story, they sure do add an entertainment factor.
These fantastical elements make for some amazing ideas, such as the 15 million capacity arks – a thousand of them, all unique and evolving culturally. The ark The Great Barrier Reef was really cool, with humans living in an aquatic themed arc with beaches and even amphibious modifications. I’d genuinely love to read more about these unique arks and I found them a really fascinating and fun idea. I also think the envoys (blue skinned benevolent creatures working as wardens-of-sorts for the alien entity) are a fantastic addition. They even adapt to the ark they are on with their appearance and personality evolving with that of the ark’s culture.
The author’s imagination is a definite strength and highlight. Unlike Embers of War, there isn’t a big cast of characters I fell in love with, but the plot and creativity kept me perfectly entertained. Our main character Eryn is likeable enough but not to the extent to leave a lasting impression, while the other characters are more shallow than the multitude of personalities created for the Embers of War trilogy.
I loved that Powell flexes his horror skills here and there are parts reminiscent of Aliens and the foreboding, unknown horror that made that world so successful and horrifying. Many books claim to be inspired by these films, or to give off the same vibe, but they almost always come up short. When our characters first arrive on Candidate-623 my spine was already tingling. Staying on the horror theme, Powell actually evokes some quite brutal and grisly imagery; these elements are really successful in raising the stakes and giving the reader a sense of nervous anticipation and I thought they were really well written.
I feel something that is not always mentioned in reviews but really added to my enjoyment of the book was the author’s mastery of the chapters and pacing. The chapter titles themselves are brilliant, and the length of the chapters, as in his other work, always just feels right. It means every chapter keeps you engaged and there wasn’t a time I was ever bored or felt something dragged. Powell has a real knack for keeping you turning those pages. This is also aided by his writing style and prose, which I’m sure has taken unseen years to perfect but to me just feels so effortless and smooth. It really does help with the immersion when the writing pulls you through the book without any hitches.
I feel it is a book that despite having serious themes is best approached with an open mind that allows for the fun and unexpected surprises too, to get full appreciation.
Afterall, wouldn’t we all be bored if everything went exactly as we expected?
This was a really fun and refreshing read that went in brave directions, I admire Gareth Powell’s will to transfer his imaginative ideas to the page and it was a pleasure experiencing them here!
Check out the rest of the tour schedule below, and be sure to check out those reviews published earlier in the week. You’ll notice I’m listed as Blog Spells – that’s my twitter @ if you don’t follow me there! Thanks for reading, I hope you enjoyed the review.
Seventy-five years from today, the human race has been cast from a dying Earth to wander the stars in a vast fleet of arks—each shaped by its inhabitants into a diverse and fascinating new environment, with its own rules and eccentricities.
When her sister disappears while responding to a mysterious alien distress call, Eryn insists on being part of the crew sent to look for her. What she discovers on Candidate-623 is both terrifying and deadly. When the threat follows her back to the fleet and people start dying, she is tasked with seeking out a legendary recluse who may just hold the key to humanity’s survival.