There’s a gloriously 80’s science fantasy vibe about Empire of Silence from Christopher Ruocchio (review copy from Gollancz), the first in his Sun Eater series. This a Galactic Empire ruled by aristocratic houses genetically engineered so that their breeding is literally superior. They profit from indentured labour and are equipped with special swords. And there is an ongoing war against the alien Cielcin, who are slowly but surely encroaching on Empire space.
Hadrian Marlowe is the eldest son of one of those Houses – and one that feels very House Harkonnen – but succession to his father’s holdings is not guaranteed. Marlowe is a sensitive son, more interested in art than warfare, and concerned about workers’ rights. But Empire of Silence is told from the older Marlowe’s perspective, and we know that he turns into a famed leader who defeats the Cielcin but also commits genocide. Presumably actions driven by his desire to understand the alien Cielcin and his conflicted feelings about the cruel Empire he has been born into.
This is a riches to rags and back to riches again intergalactic romp. The impetuous young Marlowe runs away from home after a disagreement with his father, who wants him to enter into the Church where he might be able to use his power and influence for the sake of the family. But Marlowe does not want to become a Church torturer. During his escape, Marlowe gets robbed and ends up fighting as a gladiator on a backwater world, where he dreams of saving up enough money to buy a starship of his own.
Empire of Silence is tremendous fun, and a very promising start to an interesting new series.
Goodreads rating: 3*