Empire of Silence by Christopher Ruocchio
Title: Empire of Silence
Author: Christopher Ruocchio
Publisher: Daw Books
Published Date: June 2019
Length: 768 pages
Genre: Fiction, Fantasy, Science Fiction, Space opera, epic, etc.
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.
On the wrong planet, at the right time, for the best reasons, Hadrian Marlowe started down a path that could only end in fire. 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.
Fleeing his father and a future as a torturer, Hadrian finds himself stranded on a strange, backwater world. Forced to fight as a gladiator and into the intrigues of a foreign planetary court, he will find himself fight a war he did not start, for an Empire he does not love, against an enemy he will never understand.
Empire of Silence is lucky because it got picked up after sitting on my shelves for only a year. There are some that have waited longer. However mood reading being what it is, this one was picked up and I am so happy that I have the next instalments ready to devour because Empire of Silence absolutely smashed it as far as I am concerned. Empire of Silence is the first in the Sun Eater series with at least five more books coming in the series, that I know of. I am so glad that I happened upon Liene’s Library’s videos of her recommending this series because it was entirely based on that, that I bought the first three books.
So, what’s it about? It’s about Hadrian, the beginning is talking about the ending already. That sort of structure sometimes doesn’t work for people or as I have seen too many times in reviews, a likely take on the science-fiction kind of Name of the Wind. Now, I haven’t read that series simply because I never felt intrigued about it too much and it is way too hyped for my comfort. The framing narrative either works for people or it doesn’t. It worked for me. Hadrian is a melodramatic youth and this book shows us his adventures during his youth. The thing about Empire of Silence is that despite being 768 pages long, it never felt that way to me. The writing style is just so accessible and the prose so lovely (not purple though) that I had no option but to fall deeper into this world. The world-building is absolutely done in the exact way, not too much nor too little.
Now, the world Hadrian lives in is at least twenty thousand years into the future, where humanity has made itself home in many star systems and in typical human fashion has managed to feel and make itself superior by enslaving or killing off the native life they found any time they decided to colonise a planet. Planet Earth is a thing of the past, almost lost in history but its reminder is strong enough that there’s a whole cult/religion that is the strongest religion throughout all the constellations. Humanity is ruled by the Emperor and has a class system that harkens back to earth’s past. It’s very Romanesque but the religion is a blend of Christianity, Hinduism, Islam and many others, despite trying its best to seem superior. There’s also a war between two sentient species, humans and Cielcin. They are not able to understand each other and they are not likely to. Unfortunately.
Now, onto Hadrian and all the characters that come with his tale. I like Hadrian as a protagonist because he is aware of how privileged he is and how that same privilege makes it very hard for him to survive in the real world. He’s ridiculously smart at times and in areas of language and logic/reasoning, he truly excels (possibly the result of centuries of manufactured DNA constructed as per the request of his house, Marlowe) however in other areas, he truly fails. He observes but he does not learn easily from those observations. He’s a fairly decent person and it shows. It also makes it easy to root for him in the story. We see many phases of his life in this book, from a noble stuck in his position to living on the streets of some random planet he wasn’t even aware of, to finding himself and moulding it according to what he thinks what a good person should be. It’s fascinating to read and due to its first-person narration, we are often given intimate glimpses that we might not have gotten had it been in a third-person perspective.
As for other characters, we see plenty that are fleshed out and a few that despite being well written seem like Hadrian doesn’t quite know what to make of them. Hadrian admits in the narrative that some things aren’t what they seem initially and that he’s an unreliable narrator at times. There are times when he thinks, as he’s stuck on that planet, homeless that he’s never felt freer in his life despite all his hardships and it perfectly shows how Hadrian’s thinking is. Privileged as he was, he thought being homeless and penniless was better when in reality, many would most definitely kill him for that thought. Valka, Cat, Switch and all the other characters that come into his life, most definitely scoff at him. I loved Valka and Switch because of how much is still not revealed about them. I felt so bad for Gibson and Cat, I might have even shed a tear or two for Cat. At times, it did feel like all these characters existed and came into Hadrian’s life to further his personality and growth. That might be why I put off giving this five stars.
There’s plenty of political intrigue and backstabbing and other shenanigans to soothe a bloodthirsty reader. There’s violence that does not pull its punches, there’s a torture scene during which I had to put the book down because I simply could not continue without wanting to cry. I loved that we cannot 100% say that what Hadrian says is totally true to historical events and even Hadrian is choosing to leave out some parts of the history because he thinks we would be too bored of it. Who knows what we missed out on and how important they might have been. I love that feeling of not quite knowing how much we know of the actual events and how much is the truth.
Overall, I enjoyed it far more than I was expecting and I am so glad for it. There’s a little bit of everything in this one and even though the book does sort of end on a note that says it’s ready for the next great adventure, if a reader stops after this book, it’ll still feel satisfying on its own, I think. A must-read if you are a fan of space opera, melodramatic main characters and political intrigue on a very large scale.