*Potential for spoilers as I explain, and describe Hadrian Marlowe and set up the scene*
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 navigate the intrigues of a foreign planetary court, he will find himself fighting a war he did not start, for an Empire he does not love, against an enemy he will never understand.
Empire of Silence is Christopher Ruocchio’s science fiction debut that sees us follow the first-person documentation of our protagonist, Hadrian Marlowe. We follow Hadrian through a small snippet of his life, starting off on his home planet of Delos where he is part of the nobile class, to his time on Emesh where he is unknowingly dumped whilst on his way to join the holy Chantry and thus having to make his own way in life without the help of his blood, name, and titles. It is a novel about survival, race and class differences, segregation, and so much more – providing an insight into a universe that seems so similar, yet so different.
Hadrian Marlowe, as mentioned, is a part of the nobile – essentially the upper-class nobles a.k.a palatines. On Delos, he is a part of the ruling class and heir-apparent to his father Alastair Marlowe. However, Hadrian has never really had an inclination towards the rough and tumble ways in which his father rules his planet, preferring to be more polite, courteous, and inquisitive to those of a lower-class than him. It is this calmer, more respected demeanour that sets him apart from his father, and also his younger brother, Crispin. Where his brother enjoys the sport and competition of fighting in the Collosso against those who have committed crimes, Hadrian would much rather draw, learn languages, and imagine his life living out amongst the stars like his heroes. However, Hadrian – who against his Father’s wishes to join the Chantry and, with the help of his Mother, was on a carrier to join the Scholiast’s – is dumped on an unknown planet far from his home system. With his deception at the forefront of his mind, Hadrian can no longer use his name, title, or breeding to get anywhere on this new planet without giving away his location, forcing him to live far below his station out on the streets with the thieves and criminals, eventually becoming a myrmidon to make a more honest living and hopefully fulfil his dreams to travel the universe.
As the novel progresses and events begin to unravel, putting the lives of Emesh in danger and uncovering new information that could change the course of the universe, Hadrian begins to develop and fully come into his own. Decisions and actions he would previously have shied away from, he is forced to confront and enact in order to get what he needs and understand better everything happening around him. Hadrian begins to ingratiate himself with his fellow myrmidons, thus making lifelong friends with those of a lower-class who, if he was still living on Delos, he would never have had any interaction with. Alongside this, with the war with the Pale moving ever closer to his position, Hadrian begins to understand the role he could, and will play, in this war and the way in which his actions could help in the future. Though many around him may not see it yet, Hadrian is able to convince and needle his way into Emesh’s nobile allowing him to set his course in life that will continue in future novels.
I’m a big fan of character-driven science fiction novels. I find them more emotional and engaging than those that focus entirely on world-building and the technology, society, and politics of these new planets. Empire of Silence is character-driven and brings all the information you need with each page you turn. Though we only see a small corner of this universe, we gain information about races, planets, and people we have not currently met allowing for a wider sense of the universe around him. However, I did find the novel to be long-winded and felt that many sections could have been shortened, or cut out entirely. This book took me almost two weeks to get through, and I did find – at times – that after putting the book down and coming back to it, I couldn’t fully remember the details of the previous chapter. For a 700 page book, a lot of the writing could have been condensed to around 500 whilst still providing all the information that was key in building up Hadrian and building the planets and people around him. With that being said, I am eager to read anything further that connects to this novel to better understand Hadrian, the Cielcin (the Pale), and the string of information we received throughout this novel. There are a lot of directions that Ruocchio can take with this novel and I look forward to seeing where it does go.