By: Gareth L. Powell
Illustrator: Julia Lloyd (Cover Design); Shutterstock (Images)
Release Date: February 15, 2022
Publisher: Titan Books
Series: Stars and Bones
Received From: Publisher
(All reviews are our own, honest opinions.)
Multi-BSFA-award-winning author Gareth L. Powell brings us a new science fiction novel in the form of Stars and Bones: A Continuance Novel. Set in an entirely new universe from the previous Embers of War series, this novel sees sentient spaceships, incredible arks carrying humanity through the skies, unknown worlds, and a healthy dose of cosmic horror. Shown most of all, perhaps, is Powell’s unparalleled ability to create fascinating sentient spacecraft—and a truly incredible knack for finding the best names for them.
When Shay and her team disappear without a trace after tracking down a mysterious distress call from an alien planet, her sister is left scrambling to find answers. Eryn is a navigator, a human who is able to connect directly with the sentient spaceship the Furious Ocelot. Now, there are extra people on her ship, all of whom are attempting to track down and recover the ship the Couch Surfer along with its crew. But things go from strained to dire very quickly when Eryn’s new companions begin dying and the strange, unknown threat makes its way from this alien world to the rest of humanity’s fleet.
Space opera rules the roost here, with ample helping of cosmic horror on the side. Hard science fiction, filled with detailed examinations of tech and the inner working of space travel, isn’t the focus. This allows a fascinating world to unfold before us, one with enormous ark ships that can change their appearance according to their own wills and the wills of its denizens, humans who look more like sea creatures through the use of ark’s interventions, and space travel likes of which can only be dreamed of in our current world. There’s no getting bogged down in the how-tos here. Instead, imagination is free to run wild.
And then, everything changes. In the blink of an eye, curious humans trying to respond to a distress call and other curious humans trying to save them have accidentally made contact with an unknown, terrifying thing. No one’s sure what it is—an intelligent being; something nonintelligent but multiplicious, like a virus; something created by a human or alien being?—but they do know that it leaves nothing but destruction in its wake.
Readers steeped in the genre will find hallmarks that may be familiar to them. Finding something wholly unknown on a planet only designated by a string of numbers and letters may be a flashing neon mayday sign for some, after all, but it is one that is executed extremely well. A tense situation quickly becomes an adventure filled with elements of cosmic horror. Breakneck pacing leaves readers just as breathless as the characters, as humanity as a species quickly comes under threat, leading to an incredibly wild ride to the conclusion.
However, time is taken to explore how humanity left Earth to travel the stars in these great ships, providing both ample—and fascinating—world-building. This isn’t just an interesting backstory, either. This is the heart of the tale, a story that explores family, building communities, and the balance between the right to existence and the right to complete autonomy. Where must lines be drawn between individual wants, the wants of humanity as a whole, and the good of other species, intelligent or otherwise?
Much of this story is dark, and those who aren’t yet comfortable reading about an unknown entity killing and altering people with no blatant way to tell the affected from the unaffected may want to approach the novel with care. This isn’t to say the novel is necessarily centered on a virus, but it is worth mentioning nonetheless. Yet, there is a beauty here as well that speaks to humanity’s unparalleled ability to wring hope out of thin air. It is a veritable treatise on loss, especially sudden loss, and moving forward anyway, especially when you have no other choice.
Even gods cannot always fix everything. Sometimes, humans have to go out on a limb and follow that unknown thing that allows hope, purpose, and drive from some unknown inner place, and no one better depicts that than Eryn and her ship the Furious Ocelot.