Book Review: Conventions of War by Walter Jon Williams

Conventions of War is the third and final novel in Walter Jon Williams’ Dread Empire’s Fall series. Lady Caroline Sula leads the guerrilla war against the rebellious Naxids on the Empire’s occupied capital world of Zanshaa, while Lord Gareth Martinez commands a battleship in the Fleet task force waging a war of attrition on the enemy’s economic heartland a la Sherman’s “March to the Sea.”

I can’t say much more about the plot without giving it away, but I can say the book wraps up the series with an ending that — while not “happily ever after” — was appropriate to the characters considering their previous actions.

Williams did all the things in Conventions of War that entertained me in the first two books — military space opera without the technical jargon, conflicted characters I cared about, and “realistic” spaceships and space warfare. Don’t get me wrong, I love laser battles and “warp drive” ships like any good sci-fi geek, but it was interesting to read about the challenges starship crews face with high-gravity accelerations and decelerations, along with the months it takes to simply go from one end of a single solar system to another.

If I had any criticism it would be the first two-thirds of the book felt like Williams was killing time before getting to the brutal fight for Zanshaa and the ultimate space battle with the Naxids. While Sula’s guerrilla exploits against the Naxids were appropriate to the story (though a tad drawn out), the murder mystery Martinez had to solve seemed thrown in just to give him something to do until the final battle.

That said, I still enjoyed the book and the series overall. While not as entertaining as book two (The Sundering), it was a satisfying conclusion to one of the best space opera series I’ve ever read.

Books in the Dread Empire’s Fall series: