Novel: Fleet Elements by Walter Jon Williams

The second civil war of the Praxis comes to head in Walter Jon Williams’ Fleet Elements (2020), the middle book of a continuation trilogy following on from the original Dread Empire’s Fall series. The empire has fractured yet again, as its conservative aristocracy has blamed a devastating financial crisis on the Terran race, triggering internal political strife across the galaxy. Exceptional Terran war heroes Gareth Martinez and Caroline Sula, two unorthodox officers of the imperial fleet who never quite fit in there, find themselves going up against their former superiors, joining a Terran-led coalition known as the Restoration. Their goal: to quash an unjust conflict and bring the empire back together. But to succeed they’ll have to deploy their brilliant military tactics against the superior forces and strident zealotry of the villainous Lord Tork.

Unlike earlier volumes in this series, Fleet Elements is considerably more dependent on familiarity with series lore—even as that history makes its narrative beats somewhat easier to predict. Once again, star-crossed lovers Martinez and Sula never quite fully submit to their mutual attraction, the conflicts that bring them together inevitably also driving them apart. Williams has such bracing storytelling facility that the novel still succeeds, an entertaining extension of his rich, robustly designed universe loaded with political maneuvers, complex battles, and simmering romantic chemistry. The bulk of the book might be over-familiar to veterans of the series, but there are excellent, surprising developments in the final act that should propel the series entertainingly into its concluding volume.

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