Empire of Silence is the début novel from Christopher Ruocchio and “The Name of the Wind” meets “Dune” is how some people are describing it, which is no mean feat!
I think this is an excellent way to summarise the feel and the scope of the sci-fi. We have an autobiographical account from the exiled son of a Duke, a precocious talent and a troubled coming of age and this gives us “The Name of the Wind”. We have a vast galactic space empire with politics and archaic (for the most part) customs and weapons. Which gives us “Dune”.
We’re told up front that our protagonist, Hadrian Marlowe, will go on and shape the universe. He’ll destroy a sun and wipe out an alien race. We’re also told that this isn’t that story. What a cosmic tease.
Instead, we start with a young Hadrian being groomed to become the next Duke and rule a planet. It’s not a great start. Hadrian is too kind and naive. He is a long way from the dark legend that he will become.
While there is a lengthy cast of characters at the beach of Empire of Silence, Ruocchio leaves us to discover the strange far future world by exploring it in the initial chapters.
The human empire is the most powerful force out there, but it isn’t the only human faction. The Earth has gone, and the dominant religion is built around how it will come back. The Church stretches across many of the human powers and is a considerable force in its own right.
The human empire is years after some war with the machines. Mankind won, and computers that can think for themselves are heresy now. Except in those human factions where they are not but those groups a far-flung and feel more alien than the actual xenobites who can raid the edges of the Empire and even, on occasion, attack planets.
Christopher Ruocchio dishes this compelling backstory out in juicy morsels. Sometimes a character makes mention. Sometimes Hadrian muses on a fact as he scribes the story. It means that even if you think you’re only reading the dialogue between two important scenes that you might be in the paragraph where some essential foreshadowing or lore is given out.
Ruocchio has a knack for writing combat. There’s a surprising amount of it in the early scenes. Perhaps more so that the space emperor and political intrigue between houses and families it was these scenes that made me think of Dune.
The fact that we’re learning this from a future version of Hadrian has its pros and cons. It’s easy to remember that despite the danger that he can’t die in the brewing danger. Don’t get me wrong, Ruocchio writing catches you and brings you along for the ride and sometimes you have the required flashes of concern. It’s all about how Hadrian solves the current problem or, as likely as not, makes a mistake and digs himself into even more trouble. It’s not the destination the matters, we know the sun explodes, it’s the journey. Given a predilection for being thoughtful and trying to do the right thing – how does Hadrian end up wiping out an entire alien race? If that doesn’t tempt your curiosity, then Ruocchio’s melee style should be enough to hold your attention.
I’ve already mentioned there’s a cast of characters and each one comes to life in their own unique ways. At times it’s almost frustrating when Hadrian’s journey continues because you leave so many of these exciting personas behind. I hope there’s a sequel and I especially hope we get to revisit some of the supporting members of the young Marlowe’s growth.
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This may be a debut novel, but the series it belongs too already has a name – Sun Eater. I look up with interest and notice there’s an audiobook also out narrated by John Lee. That’s nearly a 26 hour listen which goes some way to expressing the size of the book. I also suspect it would be a visually powerful Netflix series too… though they’d have to tackle the first person narrative issue.
Empire of Silence marks the start of a new sci-fi saga for me. It’s one I look forward to diving in to. Let’s bring on the Sun Eater and find how we end up such a dreadful conclusion.
My copy of Empire of Silence was provided for review. The book is published by Gollancz and is available for purchase on the 5th of July 2018.