Empire of Silence

Though the novel didn't get much traction upon initial release, Christopher Ruocchio's Empire of Silence and its sequels have been making a lot of noise these last few years. So much so that I knew I had to give the Sun Eater series a shot sooner rather than later.

And though the book is not without its shortcomings, it is still a good read. After all, one must not forget that this was the author's debut. There are definite Dune vibes and the structure is very similar to that of Patrick Rothfuss' The Name of the Wind. And yet, even though it's quite different in style and tone, Empire of Silence is more akin to Brandon Sanderson's bloated Stormlight Archive works.

Here's the blurb:

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.

The worldbuilding appears to be the most fascinating aspect of this work, but as things stand it's impossible to say whether that's the case or not. Rucchio introduces a lot of seemingly cool concepts and ideas, many of them borrowed from other franchises, yet he fails to elaborate on most of them. Hence, it's difficult to judge if this is a universe that resounds with depth and originality, or if it's simply an homage to other great SFF minds or just a poor imitation. The love garnered by the series implies that there's a lot more to come in the subsequent sequels, so I'll reserve my judgment in that regard. The presence of a lexicon at the end of the book also seems to imply that Ruocchio's creation has a lot more depth than meets the eye. Still, it would have been beneficial to the story to expand a bit more on the Holy Terran Chantry, the Sollan Empire and the other polities and societies living across the galaxies, the Cielcin, etc.

Stylistically, Empire of Silence is a medieval fantasy-esque space opera. In a day and age when you can turn a planet to slag from orbit, I found it a bit weird that most spacefaring societies use swords and other such weapons in combat. But it's kind of cool. There are a lot of Dune vibes, especially early on, with hints of an AI apocalypse which led to technological restrictions enforced by the fearsome Inquisition and which led to Rucchio's own version of Herbert's mentat. Many of the societies depicted in the novel are based on feudal hierarchies whose cities boast grand Romanesque and Gothic architectures. Not entirely original by any stretch of the imagination, but somehow the author makes it work. I have a feeling that Christopher Rucchio may have been a little too ambitious with this debut and that he sort of overextended himself in several facets of the tale. Still, overall the first installment is a fun and entertaining read.

I've always said that first-person narratives can be tricky. Absolutely everything lies on the shoulders of the main protagonist and the absence of any other perspectives can make or break the story. Done well, as was the case with Jacqueline Carey's Phèdre and Robin Hobb's Fitz, it can make for unforgettable novels/series. A first-person POV allows you to leave vicariously through the character's recounting of his or her tale. Then there are the unreliable narrators like Patrick Rothfuss' Kvothe and Rucchio's own Hadrian Marlowe. Their credibility often compromised, you never know how much you can trust their own rendition of events. I found Hadrian interesting, but I was more engaged with the seemingly immortal man writing his memoirs than the teenager/young adult whose story makes up Empire of Silence. Young Hadrian is so emo, I found myself wanting to fling the book across the room on more than one occasion. I definitely want to discover more about the tyrant who will destroy a sun and make billions of victims, but here's to hoping I won't have to put up with all that teenage angst and emo crap for another novel or two. I'm not sure I could handle that.

Ruocchio went for lyrical prose, which is not bad per se. Problem is, he definitely went over the top with this aspect and it hurts the novel in significant fashion. Everything is overwritten, every scene overlong. Rucchio uses a paragraph where a sentence would do, a page where a paragraph would do. This makes for a bloated and often repetitive narrative. There are signs of brilliance throughout Empire of Silence. But not unlike Sanderson's epic Stormlight Archive installments, one has to sift through page after page after page of superfluous scenes and storylines, overwritten to boot, to get to them and that can be extremely exhausting. How you can cope with this will likely impact how much you enjoy this book.

Given the author's propensity to overwrite and dwell on extraneous plot points that bring little or nothing to the story, as you can expect the pace for the bulk of the novel is exceptionally slow. This is no page-turner, believe you me. And yet, for all of its meandering and occasional boring ways, Christopher Ruocchio's debut nevertheless manages to keep you interested. No matter how atrocious the rhythm and no matter how redundant or pointless the sequence, there is always a little something that makes you want to keep on reading and find out what happens next.

Which is why, regardless of its shortcomings, and in that regard your mileage may vary, you should give Empire of Silence a shot. I will definitely be reading the second volume, Howling Dark. Whether or not I'll continue beyond that point remains to be seen. . .

The final verdict: 7.5/10

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