Empire of Silence by Christopher Ruochhio
Publisher: DAW Books, Inc.
Reviewed by Keturah Barchers
EMPIRE OF SILENCE follows the life of Hadrian Marlowe, who is part of the nobility in humanity’s far off future known as the palatine. Having a thirst for knowledge, an aptitude for languages, and a disgust for the manipulative religious institution, Hadrian’s story revolves around his desire to be able to control his destiny. His attempts to break free from the system and go in pursuit of knowledge and adventure lead to dark alleys and cruel intentions that shape him into the man he never wanted to be. Trying to dance around the intrigue and danger of being a palatine in a world that doesn’t know him, Hadrian finds himself stumbling onto dangerous secrets that lead him to mysteries he’d never imagined. Written as if Hadrian were narrating, the story unfolds as a confession or clarification as to what led him to commit genocide. The tale is Hadrian’s attempt to atone for his sins by telling his side of the story.
There is no mystery as to how this series, or at least how the unreliable narrator sees it, will end. The outcome of Hadrian’s journey is told on the first page. One might think this would take away the tension and mystery of the overall premise, but that is not the case. Ruochhio uses this foreknowledge to develop Hadrian for the reader. The discrepancies of what a reader is told Hadrian will do and what he tries to do increases the desire to know why.
The downfall of Hadrian being the narrator is the consistent breaching of the fourth wall. In the beginning, the constant interruptions stall the narrative. By the middle of the book, these ruminations become philosophical and enhance the narrative instead of disrupting it.
Perhaps the interruptions fail in the beginning because they are too deep to be inserted in a scene that has a floundering teen who doesn’t seem to understand how life at court works. It appears that the intention of these scenes is to show the reader Hadrian’s character arc, and indeed Hadrian’s complex character is drawn out through these passages of moral insight, but you have to get to the middle for it to smooth out. One can understand why Ruocchio chose to have a wiser Hadrian interrupt his youthful folly, but at first the technique comes off as more preachy than enlightening.
Ruocchio deals with the vaguely familiar throughout this story. For those who have read Frank Herbert’s DUNE or Patrick Rothfuss’s THE NAME OF THE WIND, this book will be a delightful way to spend an evening.