Risingshadow has the honour of hosting an exclusive excerpt from Fleet of Knives by Gareth L. Powell.

This blog post is part of The Fleet of Knives Blog Tour.

Fleet of Knives was published by Titan Books in February 2019.

About the author:

Gareth is the author of five science-fiction novels and two short story collections. His third novel, Ack-Ack Macaque, book one in the Macaque Trilogy, was the winner of the 2013 BSFA novel award. He lives in Bristol, UK.

Find him on Twitter @garethlpowell.

Click here to visit his official website.


From the window of my cell, I watched the sky grow pale. Somewhere, beyond the prison walls, birds were singing. Below me, in the flagstone courtyard that occupied the centre of the prison, half a dozen uniformed soldiers stood loading and inspecting their rifles in the thin, predawn light. Their voices were soft and low and, in the frosty morning air, their exhalations came as little ephemeral wisps of cloud. Between them and the rearmost wall, a pockmarked wooden stake marked the spot where, in a few short moments, I was scheduled to die.

Four years ago, under my real name of Annelida Deal, I had led the fleet that sterilised Pelapatarn. It was an action that brought the grinding attrition of the Archipelago War to an abrupt, horrific end, at the cost of a few thousand human lives and the destruction of a billion-year-old sentient jungle. And even though I had been acting under orders when I allowed my ships to commit that atrocity, the courts—under growing pressure from a populace appalled at the lengths to which its military had gone on its behalf—held me responsible for the destruction and loss of life, and sentenced me to be put to death here in this prison, on the anniversary of the armistice.

In my head, the two sides of my personality were at war. The part of me that had once pretended to be a poet named Ona Sudak railed against the injustice of it all—against dying here in this squalid little prison after everything I had done and seen—while the side of me that was Annelida Deal and had lived through the war laughed, and asked, Why not? What makes you so special? Did you think you had a destiny? That the universe had a purpose in sparing you thus far? Well, guess what? So did every casualty on every battlefield throughout history: every serf murdered by an unjust lord; every peasant that starved in their hovel; every victim of accident, disease or random violence… They all thought the world had a plan for them, and they were all wrong. And they died shitty, untimely and disillusioned deaths because of it—because individual life means nothing in the cascade of history, and the gods have better things to worry about than your survival.

I watched one of the soldiers clip a fresh magazine into his carbine. The rifles they were using were the same model I’d used in basic training: a robust firearm with few moving parts, designed primarily for ruggedness and simplicity of use.

In the cell behind me, the military chaplain coughed.

If you wish to unburden yourself, now would seem to be the time.”

I turned away from contemplation of my soon-to-be executioners.

No, thank you.”

The Reverend Thomas Berwick was an avuncular man with a round face and wide, sympathetic brown eyes. He wore the black robes of the Church, and clutched in his lap a thick, leather-bound holy book.

This might be your last chance to confess,” he said, “and make peace with your gods.”

I felt my fists clench. “Why? So I can salve the consciences of those who condemned me?”

He gave a sympathetic half-smile, and spread his hands.

“No, my daughter. For the sake of your soul.”

My soul? If I’d had the energy, I might almost have laughed.

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