Friday, December 21, 2018

The Bookwyrm's Review of Empire of Silence by Christopher Ruocchio

Author: Christopher Ruocchio

Length: 624 Pages/ 26 Hours, 11 minutes (Audio)

Publisher: Daw Books, Recorded Books (Audio)

Release Date: July 3, 2018

Narrator: Samuel Roukin

Series: The Sun Eater, Book 1

Genre: Space Opera

This is one of those books, with it's fairly long run time of 26+ hours, that I wanted to try and get listened to in just a few sittings, realizing it might be a bit complex to break down over a longer period. Good thing I did, because this books swings all over the place, handling complex galactic politics, combat and personal interactions with equal aplomb.

Hadrian Marlowe, eldest son of a noble planetary governor, expects to be named heir. In a galactic empire that resembles the worst excesses of the Roman empire, this means a life of privilege and wealth, but also having to meet the demands of the empire. The problem is, he doesn't want to be. In the thinking machine tech phobic society he lives in, he would rather train to be a human computer (think Mentats from Dune). Unfortunately for him, his father has other plans. Thinking it would be advantages to have a son in the Chantre, the official church of the empire, worshipping fallen Earth, Hadrian has a future as a church Inquisitor, (the church's sanitized name for torturer), to look forward to. 

Deciding this is not the fate he would want, he escapes his home world with help from the last person he expects. Going into cryo-sleep, he expects to wake up 13 years later, ready to begin a new life. He instead wakes up in a back alley clinic many years later than he expected, on a backwater planet named Emesh. Penniless and weak from years in stasis, his life quickly falls into squalor as he becomes just another penniless vagrant, since if he is caught he will be turned over to the Chantre, which doesn't take kindly to runaways. This lasts for years, until a chance encounter reminds him he has martial training, and he becomes a Myrmidon, a fighter in the arena.

Finding a new life and family in the arena, hiding his past as a noble, Hadrian, called Hade by his companions, is more successful than he dreams. His dreams, however, become part of his downfall, as his native curiosity gets the better of him as he snoops around the arena's dungeon level when he hears they have a captured Cielcin, the only other space faring race and the enemy of humanity, locked away somewhere below. Finding the truth, he is caught in the act, with dire consequences.

Revealed as a noble to the local Count, he is thrust into the political world of Emesh, a world he loathes but is familiar with. Hiding his identity as just a tutor to the Count's children, he makes an enemy of a powerful priest. He also has a burgeoning attraction to Valka, a foreign Zenologist on Emesh studying mysterious ruins. This is the world he must navigate as outside forces steer him in yet more directions not of his choosing. After he is revealed at last as a noble, his path is even more controlled, and he has a series of life altering events happen, with consequences that will one day be felt across the Empire.

I have always had a fascination with Space Opera. That huge canvas spread across a galaxy, with all the myriad elements of politics, adventure and villainy. This book has those in spades. While it has superficial resemblances to books like Dune, it definitely takes it's own path. Hadrian Marlowe is no Paul Mau'dib. As much as he doesn't like the nobles of the Empire, he still has quite a few noble notions about class and peoples place in society. Bearing a striking resemblance to a Roman despotism, the Empire, separated as it is by distance and the limits of space travel, still manages to act as a cohesive unit. It is an excellent bit of worldbuilding, with much attention lavished on the political and religious systems, as well as the various outsiders. The plot is paced well, letting what needs to burn slow have time to develop, while letting the action set pieces barrel ahead full speed. The author does a fantastic job developing the characters, showing no fear in exposing them, warts and all, making them much more realistic than you would expect. 

The narration was handled quite well by Samuel Roukin. This is the first book I've heard him narrate, but he did an outstanding job bringing the characters and story to life. His narrative pacing is good, and he definitely has a talent for creating memorable, individualized character voices. I look forward to his work in the future.

All in all, this is one of my top five reads of the year, hands down. Any fan of stories like Dune or Deathstalker should find something to enjoy in this book.

Rating: 5/5

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