Book - Stars and Bones

Stars and Bones, published next week by Titan Books, is the first in a new series of novels by Gareth L Powell. Steve Taylor-Bryant gives his thoughts on the book ...

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.

I’ve always like Gareth L. Powell’s books, he has a refreshing take on science fiction and, contained within his well constructed plots and dramatic narrative, there is a wonderful sense of humour that seeps through. I guess I mean they are serious books that don’t always take themselves seriously and whilst I love the madness of talking monkey lifted from a game, or the sassiness of a ship built from the DNA of a soldier and a dog I can put these books down and come back to them. With Stars and Bones I couldn’t, from the first chapter I was gripped and full of wonder and terror and tension and had to complete the book as soon as possible, I just had to know what was going on and whether all the characters would survive.

Stars and Bones felt a little more raw than the Embers trilogy I’d enjoyed previously. There was more genuine horror, more serious commentary on what human beings are capable of and also on our failures. There is also an almost depression in the writing in parts, a real disappointment in certain elements of our world today that comes through in this futuristic tale that I find refreshing. Certain story points and character narrative come off the page like an author who has had enough wrote them, and that is new to me and something to be applauded, which leads to more realistic characters than maybe you’d usually get in sci-fi space operas. 

These characters, especially Eryn, are as fragile and as mentally drained as we all are after the last few years and it makes it so much easier to relate to them. We are all tired, suffering great loss, some of us frustrated beyond belief at the actions of our fellow human beings against the backdrop of a dying planet, political unrest and a worldwide pandemic, all of which makes up a great through story within Stars and Bones. Yes, there are the great space action scenes, the multiple point of view chapters, and interesting scientific ideas at play that fans of Gareth L. Powell have come to expect but, for, me the success of Stars and Bones rests on Powell’s ability to take my mental health struggles and fears of the last few years and make me confront them in such an entertaining way. Knowing how hard it has been to even write reviews with Covid lurking in the background, I must offer Powell a hearty, socially distanced handshake for even being capable of typing in the last few years, let alone managing to pull off such a strong start to a new series.

Not everyone will enjoy the rawness of Stars and Bones, and it certainly offers no respite from real life at the moment, but if you have a strong stomach and like your stories very close to the bone then you will love it. I cannot wait for the next book to see how Powell manages to take my soul and drop it even further into an adventure light years away.

Follow Steve on Twitter @STBwrites

Image - Titan Books

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