Empire of Silence by Christopher Ruocchio
The Sun Eater: Book One
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 in 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.
The Empire of Silence is a vast book and brings with it all of the details and interests a reader needs to get into an epic science fiction tale. The primary and only POV of Christopher Ruocchio is Hadrian Marlow. Told through a first-person account, Hadrian starts the book by indicating he is telling his story, events, and history as best that he can remember. Hadrian Marlowes is the first son of Lord Alistair Marlowe and Lady Liliana Kephalos-Marlow. He also has a younger brother Crispin. They are a wealthy noble family, well-bred through their money and technology. I speak of breading because some of the world-building gets into how humanity has used what I believe to be gene editing and other ways to develop bloodlines and overall human growth. Humanity has been at war against an alien civilization called the Cielcin, about which humanity knows little initially. As we learn through the words of Hadrian that, there are conspiracies and secrets withheld by those in power.
One thing that Mr. Ruocchio balances well in his world-building and politics was a slightly growing increase of a surveillance state created by the empire and more closely through the semi-religious entity known as the Chantry. The growing idea of always being watched by a ruling overlord or the Chantry increases throughout the book. I found this thread even more interesting after I finished it. The notes and details are subtle, but after dwelling on the book, I really appreciated the thoughtfulness of these threads.
“And with an impatient hand wave, he dismissed billions of human lives from our conversation as one shoos away a fly.”
At the start of the book, Hadrian is the heir to House Marlowe, and its wealth is based on mines used to fuel ships in space. Hadrian isn’t necessarily smitten with the idea, but he also isn’t sure he wants his brother to have the mantle. Hadrian makes a series of diplomatic errors and mistakes, throwing himself in a poor light while his younger brother continues to follow the rule of a typical noble and looks the better person for it. Hadrian is a scholarly man who can speak multiple languages and dislikes the empire’s religion, the Chantry and this under lying division flows through the book and grows like a bacteria bubbling to the surface as the reader gets deeper into the mythos created.
This book is a world-building masterwork. The worlds, laws, and religions are thought out and expressed in detail, and at 600 pages and finishing the book, there was more not just to the story but to the worlds and universe Mr. Ruocchio created.
“They committed that ultimate and atheistic error: thinking that there is only power, and that civilization arises only from the abuse of the innocence by the powerful.”
Through a series of blunders and the ignorant trust of strangers and family that may or may not have his interests aligned with theirs, Hadrian is thrown into a new environment and forced into the life of an average person far away from his noble upbringing. Here, he learns to fight against gladiators to earn money and life’s necessities. The book builds as Hadrian’s upbringing starts to work for him until a turn of the plot, by his own doing, he becomes the exact thing he despises.
The world building is ever present, and Mr. Ruocchio’s efforts to create a massive universe should be applauded. After page 500, I could not put it down at the book crescendo and wondered what the next book in the series would be like. The potential for space pirates excites me.
The tone and ideas in the book reminded me at times of a YA novel at first, with immediate Dune influences but not intentionally done. The descriptions in my book made me think of a mixture of the almost steampunk feel of early Star Wars mixed with some modern technologies. AI is as prevalent in this setting as I thought it would be, which is a great thing to have in a book. I enjoyed the threads created by the different families and the morally gray antagonists of Hadrian’s family, the Chantry, and the problems Hadrian constructed for himself. I can’t speak to science fiction tropes or other metaphors as the genre is not my expertise. I found the reading enjoyable and the plots and twists intriguing.
“Our exposure to the oceans of space has made of our vast worlds small islands.”
The misses are variable, as the things I disliked didn’t stop me from turning pages. Hadrian’s love interest, if you are to call it that, is thinly written; I found the play between the two so slow for me, and nothing ever blossomed, which overall made both characters feel less human and natural. Maybe more of it will come with the other books, but the reality of the two of them not having some form of physical relationship seemed unreal to me and unnatural.
Also, the doctor saying “Tis” felt out of sync with the science fiction setting. It annoyed the hades out of me. Due to the nature of his birth and space travel, Hadrian is old and young at the same time, so maybe he is acting appropriately for his age. None of these matters stopped me from devouring this book, and I continued to turn the page. The Empire of Silence reads faster than the imposing 600 pages feels that it should, and science fiction readers will immediately grasp the world and politics that Mr. Ruocchio sinks the reader into. Mr. Ruocchio will turn a phrase and let it linger as he continues to push forward his story, sprouting and growing Hadrian’s historic retelling of his life.
The book is thick and well put together, and an index at the end provides definitions of some of the language used in the book. Bonus points for that stuff, I love a glossary, family tree or anything extra to build up the world and story. The book is based on 1st person with one POV, and the chapter headings include the chapter number and title. The book is a brick coming in at 612 pages and 225,000 + words. The cover immediately reminded me of the video game Destiny, a mixture of a Hunter and Warlock classes. The cover represents the fighting in the Colosso, a coliseum-like area set up for gladiator games. Where gladiators fought either slaves, beasts, or contracted warriors. The dark tones provide the immediate feel of space and science fiction books.
The Empire of Silence is the first book in the Sun Eater series, and the amount of time building up the world, characters, and the plots woven though the different planets, cultures, and empires can be seen once you finish this book, but like a Brandon Sanderson novel will be felt for many more books to come. Touches of pop culture, the likes of Dune, Warhammer, and Star Wars, are sprinkled throughout the book, and those who relish them will enjoy the start of this series.