Empire of Silence by Christopher Ruocchio

Empire of Silence

Christopher Ruocchio

In this epic fantasy, Hadrian Marlowe finds himself stranded on a strange, backwater world. He will have to fight a war he did not start for an Empire he does not love.

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Hadrian Marlowe, a man revered as a hero and despised as a murderer, chronicles his tale in the galaxy-spanning debut of the Sun Eater series, merging the best of space opera and epic fantasy.

It was not his war.

The galaxy remembers him as a hero: the man who burned every last alien Cielcin from the sky. They remember him as a monster: the devil who destroyed a sun, casually annihilating four billion human lives—even the Emperor himself—against Imperial orders.

But Hadrian was not a hero. He was not a monster. He was not even a soldier.

On the wrong planet, at the right time, for the best reasons, Hadrian Marlowe starts down a path that can only end in fire. He flees his father and a future as a torturer only to be left stranded on a strange, backwater world.

Forced to fight as a gladiator and navigate the intrigues of a foreign planetary court, Hadrian must fight a war he did not start, for an Empire he does not love, against an enemy he will never understand.


Advance Galley Reviews

I received free access to an advance galley through the Penguin First to Read program. Skip the blurb. (Or at least pay very close attention to what it does and doesn’t say.) This is a story about beginnings, a 600-odd page prelude to the events that will eventually end with our hero destroying a sun. Take note: the actual destruction does not occur in this book. Not a bad thing, but easy to miss while you’re busy judging the book by its admittedly stunning cover art. Hadrian, House Marlowe, of Delos is the eldest son of a uranium baron in some far-distant alternative future. He has every anticipation of succeeding his father as ruler of their planet, but circumstances--and his own actions--contrive to see him fleeing his planet to seek another path… and ultimately ending up in the middle of backwater nowhere. This installment is all about the choices he makes on that second planet, setting up the world for the main plot of the Sun Eater series. (Projected number of books? Unknown.) My favorite alternative title for this one is The Memoirs of Hadrian Marlowe: Drama Queen (Preferably in tall neon lettering). Our protagonist is intelligent, but not clever. Every time he gets his footing he makes some impulsive choice that hurts him more than it helps, with the Law of Unintended Consequences in full effect. He’s telling his story to the reader in hindsight, of course, but age doesn’t seem to have tempered his penchant for melodrama--which is continually lampshaded by both Hadrian himself and the characters around him. I’m not sure if the lampshading helps or hinders, to be quite honest, but if our protagonist is frustrating, at least the people around him seem interesting. Of course, since this is Hadrian narrating his memoirs, we only learn about the other characters inasmuch as Hadrian perceives their impact on his own life and choices. I have, over the last couple years, come to the conclusion that I don’t generally enjoy first person retrospective; it’s difficult to do well, and tends to be a style heavy on the melodrama. Now, there is a place for it, but I’m not totally convinced that this story is the best place. Although I can understand why the author chose to use it for this story, I might have found the book less frustrating in another tense. The setting is fairly typical fantasy fare, it just happens to be in space: a stratified Anglo-Roman society, heavy on the Roman elements. The three classes of society (in descending order: palatine, patrician, and plebeian) are distinguished by their genetic heritage, and social mobility is limited. The all-powerful Chantry--a pseudo-religious institution of social control--teaches that Humanity is first among the stars, and therefore heir to the universe. This is complicated, however, by the alien Cielcin, who also roam the stars with impunity. As such, the Empire has been at war with the Cielcin for at least several millennia (the exact timeline is unclear). This book is slow. The prose is overly-ornamented, and the first 150 pages or so were setup and a lot of info-dumping. After Hadrian finally got off of his home planet the pace started to pick up a bit, and by the halfway point there were only a few minor hiccups in tempo and tension. (We are introduced to and lose an important side character in the space of three chapters, for example.) I most enjoyed the last third of the book, but getting there was definitely a commitment. Pacing improved as the story went on, and I eventually got used to the writing style. The advance copy I read also included some back matter: a detailed dramatis personae section, planetary index for all planets referenced in-text, and glossary with “translator’s note” about the difficulties of rendering an “Anglo-Hindi” text into “classical English.” This note is the only indication I saw of a frame narrative other than Hadrian’s own retrospection. Overall, I think this is a decent debut. Is it mindblowing? Innovative? Transformative? No, not really. But I’m curious about the rest of Hadrian’s journey, which is a mark of success, and I think that--having used this volume to build setting and backstory--Ruocchio’s future volumes in this series will be better.

The story is interesting enough once you fight the overly-complex writing style.

Long, lot of information to process and slow to get into, but picks up if you stay with the story. Scify fans a good fit for this tale of future earth cultures in far off planets and their dynasty type kingdoms. Hadrian a high born son runs away from his ruler father and sets off on a fated journey and difficult life full of destiny.

It was a decent enough story, but I just couldn't get into it.

 


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