Hey Space Cadets, here is the next installment in my series of book reviews. I’m currently taking a break on reading the Honor Harrington Series to read The Ember War Saga by a fellow Army veteran, Richard Fox. He seems to be pretty successful, so another author whom might have something to teach us all. I always want to read novels by well written authors, because I mine everything I read for useful skills. Nothing has really changed on my end, so I won’t bore your ear holes with gibberish. Instead, let’s jump right into the nuts and bolts of the story.
Title: The Ember War
Author: Richard Fox
Obtained: I bought the novel, but also received the audio version for free from Podium Publishing.
Pages: 426 pages
Rating: 5/5 Grenades
This book shares the story of Marc Ibarra, an alien probe, Marine Lieutenant Hale, Captain Valdar, and the star cruiser Breitenfeld. The alien probe arrives to help Marc Ibarra prepare Earth for the coming invasion. A series of events and political assignations end with two super powers fighting for dominance and an arms race. Ultimately this prepares the Naval forces for what was to come when they fight this mysterious enemy force. The survivors of humanity had been tasked to escort a colony mission, but disappeared, only reappearing where they’d left. Only, it wasn’t the same year they’d left. They’d returned 60 years into the future, with Earth wiped out and an alien invasion. If you want to know more, read the book!
There were three main characters in this novel; the star cruiser Breitenfeld, Captain Isaac Valdar, Lieutenant Hale, Marc Ibarra and the alien probe. Like most novels with multiple POVs, each one served a unique purpose in the evolution of the plot. Each of these characters were well written, and you could feel enough depth to make them believable.
Breitenfeld: While the ship didn’t have any personality, per say, she was such an integral part of the story that she began to have agency and personhood. I was never a sailor, but I understand our swabbie friends have said similar things about current naval vessels. Like all good weapons of war, human and machine, she begins to show her age as she progresses through the plot. Scars, however, show her character as she bleeds oil and vents atmosphere to protect her crew. The way Richard Fox describes the ship, you could almost believe it was a sentient being!
Captain Isaac Valdar: This character allowed you to see the naval action of the story, always at the tip of the spear in the war against the Xaros alien probes. His position as the ships commander make it extremely plausible for him to be in any action that directly involved the Breitenfeld. He was a troubled man, who’d lost his entire world when Earth was wiped out. I could feel his pain, and it became my pain as I read his story. As an author, if you can make your audience emotionally invested in your characters, you won. Richard Fox did his job, and this character was extremely well flushed out.
Lieutenant Hale: This character allowed you to see the action of the story, always at the tip of the spear in the war against the Xaros alien probes. His position as one of the junior Marine officers, and a member of a special forces wing of the Marine Corps makes it extremely plausible for him to be everywhere when the Gauss Rifles start firing. He was a bit too ‘gung ho’ and competent for a junior officer but otherwise he was flushed out. Admittedly he had a competent senior NCO at his side, but I would’ve preferred to see the LT make a few mistakes so we knew he was, in fact, actually still an LT! I’ll honestly admit, I was an enlisted NCO and the author was an Army officer so some of this is merely a matter of perspective. That aside, the character was likeable and well thought out. I felt he was believable and he showcased the authors own time in the US Army. Overall, an extremely well flushed out character.
Marc Ibarra/Alien Probe: We meet the unnamed alien probe and a young Marc Ibarra at the beginning of this story, and while they don’t get a whole lot of face time they’re both so integral to the story that I feel like they’re defacto main characters. They were flushed out, with just enough information to be believable and yet vague enough we could picture them as embodiments of character archetypes we know and love. They were just the sort of shady that keeps you up at night, and conspiracy theorists spinning circles at the possibilities.
This plot moved along at a steady pace, I never felt like it slowed down, which I loved. I loved the detail and precision that Richard Fox payed to the military technology. Further, I liked that he didn’t get bogged down in the science of space travel. He didn’t ignore it, but rather he didn’t get bogged down in it like hard science fiction stories do. As a reader, I don’t care how the space flight works, just that the author had a reason that it did. This novel was heavier on the ground operations than the space combat, but none of it felt lacking. While this novel changed POVs several times, it never felt jarring and the shifts were easy to follow. I read this novel as an eBook, and listened to it as an audiobook via the Whisper Sync feature via Amazon’s pairing with Audible. The plotting was definitely five out of five grenades for me.
The world building of this novel was expertly done, and it never felt like it was done as an “info dump.” I felt like the world building in this novel was solid, there was just enough to understand everything. I could picture most of what he described, though it started in “modern” America, which helped me a lot. However, with regards to the space technology, it was persuasively written, believable and fun to imagine myself joining. Now I want my own Gauss Rifle! There were some parts where I felt it was lacking details, but as a lover of stories I recognized them as hooks for what I expect to happen in later novels. I can’t really say anything else here without spoiling it for people who haven’t read the stories, but the world building was a solid five out of five grenades.
Much like the world building, the detailed descriptions were solidly done. I could envision what he wrote, and I can’t wait for the graphic novel out of this universe! Hint, hint Richard! I definitely feel like the descriptions of this book set the standard, balance the not enough against the too much. In regards to description, this was a success for the author. I’d give this section four point five out of five grenades. There was room to make the descriptions really pop, but it didn’t hurt the overall story for me.
I received the audiobook free as a proof of concept from Podium Publishing while in we were in negotiation for my own series. In fact, the quality of this production was why I pushed Boss Man to agree to the contract. The only real complaint the accents of the various characters made them slightly difficult to understand. Because of this, I couldn’t tell you a single call sign for the pilots in this novel. Full disclosure, I lost some of my hearing while in the service, so this might just be my own issue. Besides, if this is my only complaint, I call it a win! Five out of five grenades.
In spite of my issues with the accents from the narrator, I really enjoyed this novel. The story kept me hooked, and made me want to read the rest of the series. I’ve bought book two and three already! This wasn’t a novel to revolutionize the world, but that isn’t why I read military science fiction. I want explosions, gun fights and cool stories. A few cool aliens wouldn’t hurt, and in every regard Richard Fox delivers! I would even recommend that you buy the novel in the digital AND audio format! Some novel’s I’ve only like enough to check out from the library, but this one you’ll want to buy for your reading pleasure and keep to read again. This was a solid 5 grenades.
If this book sounds like it’s right up your alley, check it out! You won’t regret it! Well, unless it keeps you up all night and you’re late to work… and then you fall asleep while driving and wreck your vehicle. And while you’re stuck on the side of the road your boss calls and fires you because you’re late. Without viable employment, you become a rabid fan, blowing your life savings buying all gazillion of his novels in this universe. And then, while looking for a job the alien probe arrives… and well, you know what happens. Then, you’ll try to tell your friends but they’ll think you’re insane and lock you up in a funny farm. And then they give you good drugs, making you see even more of the aliens, forcing your spirit to carry on in the limbo as your body sits in a drugged-out comma, restrained by your straight jacket. With nothing left to lose, you astroproject in Richard’s office because he ruined your life. But you go insane at the futility because he can’t see or hear you. Okay, the fanboy/fangirl syndrome MIGHT kill you. Be warned, but enjoy the happy pills!
Until next time, stay frosty and don’t forget to keep your powder dry!
–> As usual, all images came from the Google’s “labeled for reuse” section or are used on the Fair Use Doctrine.