Light of Impossible Stars by Gareth L. Powell

book cover of Light of Impossible Stars

The previous instalments in this trilogy, Embers of War and Fleet of Knives, have been some of the best space opera I’ve ever read. Of course they deal with a future where humanity is stretched across a vast expanse of space and relies on highly advanced spaceships, but they do this without ignoring more familiar parts of the human experience: love, family, abandonment, grief… Perhaps it’s a sad indictment of most space opera that this alone impresses me, but whatever, this kind of humanist far-futurism is absolutely my jam.

In Light of Impossible Stars, we are introduced to Cordelia Pa, who initially seems nothing more than an unfortunate street urchin on an impoverished, far-flung world near a wormhole called the Intrusion. Of course, it turns out that she’s much more than that: her long-absentee father returns to thrust command of a spaceship onto her, and through a convoluted series of events it becomes clear that Cordelia is much more important than she thinks: in effect, she was born to be the key to save humanity.

We are also, of course, reunited with the Trouble Dog and her crew: Captain Sal Konstanz (now battling some heavy grief), mechanic Nod the Druff (now the proud parent to a small army of little Druffs)… and also many of their acquaintances from the last book, like “Lucky” Johnny Schultz and Lucy’s Ghost, the spaceship in the form of an eerie young girl. At the book’s beginning, crippled by the Fleet of Knives and still pursued by the former poet Ona Sudak, they’re gliding and in need of a power source. Through their search, and meanderings in the vicinity of the Intrusion, they cross paths with Cordelia Pa and join forces to tackle the threats facing them.

I think this novel is perhaps the weakest of the trilogy, but not in any way that significantly dampened my enjoyment of it. I just felt like some developments/revelations in the story happened a little too conveniently. Regardless of that, Light of Impossible Stars retains many of the strengths of the first two books: the philosophy of the Druffs, some of the history of the House of Reclamation (a neutral force whose mission is to help all space travellers in danger), the strong pack mentality of the Carnivore-class warships (of which the Trouble Dog is one), their unshakeable loyalty, and the visceral pain they feel at the loss of their pack mates… all of this was just real good stuff. Powell captures the emotions of all different kinds of beings, from all different kinds of societies and upbringings, really well.

Overall, what can I say? If you like science fiction, especially space operas, and you like great characterisation, you NEED this series in your life. It is just incredibly excellent.

Books in the Embers of War trilogy

  1. Embers of War
  2. Fleet of Knives
  3. Light of Impossible Stars (you are here)


a cartoony avatar of Jessica Smith is a socialist and a feminist who loves animals, books, gaming, and cooking; she’s also interested in linguistics, history, technology and society.