Take a bit of The Expanse, add a dash of Battlestar Galactica and a soupcon of Becky Chambers’ Wayfarers series, and you have the latest thrilling space opera from multi-British Science Fiction Association Award-winning author Gareth L Powell!
Eryn is a Navigator, one of the few people who are capable of linking with the shipminds that help guide humanity through the stars. After the forced evacuation of Earth, humankind exists on a flotilla of life-sustaining arks, forbidden from returning to Earth or, indeed, touching down on planets with sentient life until they can prove their cosmic maturity (i.e. that they won’t try to commit global genocide once more) to the benevolent “Angels” that watch over them. In the seventy-five or so years since exodus, adaptations have been made to living in the stars… tho not everyone embraces these changes or even accepts them with anything but great reluctance.
Ofc, neither Eryn nor her sister Shay are part of the naysayers, both embracing space and the now. Born on the arks to parents who likely would never have connected had they stayed in their respective social stratifications on Earth, both women have wanted to be Navigators for as long as they can remember. But after a planet-side expedition goes horribly wrong, Eryn finds herself searching for answers as to what actually happened to her sister down on the surface of Candidate-623. When she realizes that what they’ve found might finish the job of humanity’s mass extermination, no matter the intercession of the Angels, Eryn must embark on a desperate mission not only to save what’s left of her family, but of a nomadic humanity forced to fight once more for its survival.
The intellectual themes — whether in theoretical physics or politics and economy — of this sci-fi novel are second to none. From the concept of the Substrate and the necessity of a human observer to navigate it, to the hilarious skewering of capitalism and the mindset behind it, Mr Powell writes both confidently and well. His action sequences and general set pieces are also vivid and memorable: all hallmarks of top-notch space opera science fiction.
Where I do think Stars And Bones falters, especially in comparison to his previous works, is in the characterizations, which feel a little more than sketched in but honestly not by much. Our characters are all deeply human, deeply interesting people, but tend to be given short shrift. Perhaps that was necessary given the compactness of this novel: clocking in at just under 350 pages in paperback, it lacks the sprawl of much of its genre. I could have easily read at least a hundred pages more that dwelled on our cast’s interior lives.
But this was Mr Powell’s pandemic novel, so I can understand the sheer amount of willpower it took even to get the rest of it on the page. Stars And Bones is an entertaining, fast-paced read, and while not the best of his works, still a worthy entry in the canon. But hey, don’t take just my word for it! Check out the opinions of the other terrific reviewers listed in the infographic above, who are also participating in the Stars And Bones book tour sponsored by Titan Books!
Stars And Bones by Gareth L Powell was published March 1 2022 by Titan Books and is available from all good booksellers, including