Review: Empire of Silence

Posted: February 8, 2023 by in Books We Like (4.4/5 single_star) Meta: Christopher Ruocchio, Science Fiction

This is a book that I likely would not have picked up of my own accord. Instead, my reading of it came on the shoulders of the recommendation of a trusted friend. Not that anything in particular made me shy away from the book. These days I just tend to avoid anything resembling large-ish science fiction tomes that don’t also come with a strong recommendation from someone I trust. My poor experience with the genre in general, I guess, but this won’t be news to those that follow our site.

EMPIRE OF SILENCE is the story of Hadrian Marlowe, told from a perspective well after the events of the story contained therein. It’s delivered in what’s referred to as a frame-story, and is thus similar in presentation to books like Rothfuss’s Kingkiller Chronicle or Hayes’s War Eternal. A story where the teller of the tale is regaling us about their (hopefully) interesting life, and has the perspective to understand, and oft times illuminate, the reader about what these stories mean for the character of interest and to where they will ultimately lead.

Hadrian is the eldest child and son of Lord Alistair Marlowe. From his birth, he’s been steeped in education and training. His father is ruler of a modest house that is part of a much larger empire, set beyond the limits of their home planet, Delos. Despite his father’s best efforts, Hadrian hasn’t become the ruler his father wishes him to be. And so instead of allowing Hadrian to move into a position of power, Lord Alastair makes the choice to use his first son as a political set-piece, and give him to the religion-based Chantry, leaving succession to Hadrian’s younger and much more vicious brother, Crispin. When Hadrian is made aware of his father’s plans, he makes choices of his own, against the will of his father, that place him on a path neither glorious nor royal, as has been his upbringing, but will begin to shape the man that he is to become. The man who wiped an entire species from existence and ultimately destroyed a sun.

It’s fairly easy for me to draw parallels between the beginnings of this series and both Dune and A Song of Ice and Fire. Dune, from the aspect of the structured universe within which the story plays out: empire, ruling houses, powerful groups of the religious and scholarly. Even to the position of the main character within that construct. I’d put the world-building I’ve seen in this first book on par with that sci-fi classic. At the very least, strongly reaching in that direction. The story itself, while decidedly different than the one we find in Dune, still evokes very similar feelings in scope and power and outcome through it’s description and evolution. My comparison to ASoIaF comes through it’s intimate and very pointed building of the story and the world surrounding Hadrian, through his character. If anything, I think it is this deep and focused portrayal of Hadrian’s story that made it so engaging and interesting. Unlike ASoIaF, there is only a single PoV character here. So, while Martin’s epic quickly lost impact for me because of the intensely character-driven chapters spread across a vast number of PoV players, the impact stayed strong and sharp for me here with only Hadrian’s perspective from which to drink.

That’s not to say that the detail and pacing of this story didn’t slow at times. Indeed, it did. This is a fairly large book, and even though there are parts of it that I think could have been shortened to decent effect, this book is Ruocchio’s *first* in publication, and that kind of boggles my mind a bit, because it’s very good. Ultimately, the one difficulty I had with the story is that there doesn’t seem to be a through-line that connects it’s disparate pieces and sets, besides the main character. There’s a lot that happens, but most of it feels very… organic, and without much of a driving force behind it. For the longest time, I found myself wondering at Hadrian’s motivations, outside of the need to survive and stay under the radar with respect to his father, and I don’t necessarily think that question was answered before I closed the last page.

I was talking with a friend of mine about this book, and he mentioned that it read like a really long prologue, and that kind of hits the nail on the head for me. Maybe even taking that comparison one step further and saying it’s like four novella-length prologues strung together, as Hadrian progresses from one locale and situation to the next. Great prologues, yes, but prologues still.

EMPIRE OF SILENCE is a long tale, well-told, that I wish accomplished more than just detailing the beginnings of Hadrian Marlowe's journey

I fought with myself for a while over a rating (upper-like or lower-love?), because while I really enjoyed each of the individual sections of this story, I was kind of disappointed when the story moved on to the next location. And yet, it wasn’t long before I found myself fully invested in that new part of the story being told. In the end, I just wanted to see more of that larger story and how it impacted and flavored what I was getting. Which, as an author, I guess that means you’ve done your job at least partially right, if your readers want to know more, yeah?

So, while I eventually decided on giving this one the lower of those two possible ratings, I did also immediately go out and buy the second book in the series. So, take that as you will. Word is that there will be seven books in the finished series. Ruocchio just made the jump from his previous publisher to Baen, and it sounds like Baen is going to treat the series right in about every conceivable way. (Honestly, that’s not particularly surprising — they’re a pretty impressive group.) In addition, I might have also heard somewhere that there’s another fun development in the works for this series of books that should excite more than a few of its fans, and I couldn’t be happier to see all that movement in a positive direction for this guy.

Absolutely a series that I will be continuing with. Excited to see where this guy takes us next.

  • Recommended Age: 16+
  • Language: Infrequently strong
  • Violence: Occasionally violent and gory, but no exultation in it
  • Sex: Some sensuality, but nothing explicit

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