Top Ten Tuesday – Top Ten Debut Books

Top Ten Tuesday is a weekly meme that currently resides at The Artsy Reader Girl and features bloggers sharing lists on various book topics. For this week’s instalment of Top Ten Tuesday, it is actually something of a special occasion as we celebrate the ten-year anniversary of Top Ten Tuesday, as this fun, weekly adventure was first started back in June 2010. As a result of this celebration, the topic for this week’s Top Ten Tuesday is a little different, as readers have two options: either redo a Top Ten Tuesday topic they have previously done, or pick a past topic that they wish they had done. In order to meet this challenge, I decided to try and do a topic that was featured well back in the day. For this Top Ten Tuesday, I will be doing the 33rd topic, which ran in February 2011 on Top Ten Tuesday’s original blog, The Broke and the Bookish, listing my favourite debut books.

Over the years I have had the great pleasure of reading a number of impressive and captivating debut novels, many of which formed the start of an amazing series or which helped launch the writing career of some of the best authors of a variety of different genres. Some of these debuts have been so good that they have stuck with me for life, and I look forward to listing my absolute favourites. I am taking a rather broad stroke approach with this list, and I am going to make any debut that I have read eligible to be included. It does not matter if I read this book out of order, whether I enjoyed later entries from the author first, or whether I have gone back and read this book years after it came out; as long as it is the first full-length novel from an author, it can appear on this list.

This proved to be a rather intriguing list to pull together, as I actually had a rather large collection of debut novels to sort through, and I ended up discarding several really good books that I was sure were going to make the cut. I think that my eventual Top Ten list (with a generous Honourable Mentions section), features a rather interesting and diverse collection of debut books, and I quite like how it turned out. Unsurprisingly, as many of these books are written by my favourite authors, I have mentioned some of these entries and their authors before in prior lists, such as my Top Ten Auto-Buy Author list, and for many of these authors, I am still reading a number of their current novels. So let us see what I was able to come up with.

Honourable Mentions:


The Crystal Shard
by R. A. Salvatore (1988)

The Crystal Shard Cover

The Crystal Shard is the very first book from one of my favourite authors, R. A. Salvatore, and it was the first book in The Icewind Dale trilogy. I really loved this book, and it served as a fantastic start to a massive fantasy series that is still going to this day. The characters introduced in The Crystal Shard have all recently appeared in a brand-new trilogy, made up of Timeless, Boundless and the upcoming Relentless, which I have had an amazing time reading and reviewing.

The Tethered Mage by Melissa Caruso (2017)

The Tethered Mage Cover

This was a fantastic debut from a couple of years ago that I instantly fell in love with, especially as it led to two awesome sequels, The Defiant Heir and The Unbound Empire.

City of Lies by Sam Hawke (2018)

City of Lies Cover


Empire of Silence
by Christopher Ruocchio (2018)

Empire of Silence Cover

An outstanding science fiction debut with a lot of impressive elements. This was one of my favourite books of 2018, and it led to an amazing sequel last year, Howling Dark, as well as the intriguing upcoming novel, Demon in White.

Top Ten Tuesday (By Release Date):


Magician
by Raymond E. Feist (1982)

Magician Cover

Right off the bat we have Magician by Raymond E. Feist, which may be one of my favourite fantasy novels of all time. I first read this book years ago, and its clever story and substantial universe building has helped make me a lifelong fan of both the author and the fantasy genre. This was the first book in the epic and long-running Riftwar Cycle, which included the fantastic spinoff series, The Empire trilogy. I am still enjoying Feist’s books to this day, as his latest novel, King of Ashes, was a lot of fun, while his upcoming book, Queen of Storms, is one of my most anticipated releases for the next couple of months.

Legend by David Gemmell (1984)

Legend


Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone
by J. K. Rowling (1997)

Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone Cover

No list about top debuts can be complete without the first book in the world-changing Harry Potter series, Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone. This was an impressive novel, filled with immense amount of world building, that I absolutely loved while growing up. While you kind of have to ignore anything that the author says outside of the books, this is still an outstanding novel, that holds a special place in my heart.

Under the Eagle by Simon Scarrow (2000)

Under the Eagle Cover

Under the Eagle was one of the very first historical fiction novels that I ever read, and it really helped me get into the genre (something that would eventually lead to me reviewing books professionally). Under the Eagle is an impressive and compelling Roman history novel that follows two Roman soldiers during the invasion of Britain. Filled with a lot of great action and historical detail, this was the first book in the Eagles of the Empire series, which is still running to this day (make sure to check out my reviews for the last couple of books in the series, The Blood of Rome and Traitors of Rome).

The Lies of Locke Lamora by Scott Lynch (2006)

The Lies of Locke Lamora Cover

This was an exceedingly entertaining and wildly impressive fantasy novel which followed a group of conmen in a dangerous, magical city. The Lies of Locke Lamora was a really good book, and I think it would be impossible for someone to read it and not instantly fall in love with it. This book also served as the first entry in the outstanding Gentleman Bastards series, which currently contains three amazing books, with the fourth novel, The Thorn of Emberlain, hopefully coming out at some point in the future.

The Blade Itself by Joe Abercrombie (2006)

The Blade Itself

The Blade Itself is an intriguing and inventive dark fantasy novel that follows a complex and damaged group of protagonists in a world full of blood, betrayal and war. This book was the first entry in The First Law series of novels, all of which have been a real treat to read. It has also led to an awesome sequel series The Age of Madness trilogy, the first book of which, A Little Hatred, was one of my favourite releases of 2019.

The Name of the Wind by Patrick Rothfuss (2007)

The Name of the Wind Cover

This was an extremely epic and captivating read, which may be one of the absolute best fantasy debuts of all time. The Name of the Wind contains an amazing, character driven story that follows the early days of a man destined to become an infamous hero. I cannot emphasise how much I loved this book, and its sequel, The Wise Man’s Fear, was just as good, if not better. I cannot wait for the third novel in the series, currently titled The Doors of Stone, to come out, and it is probably my most anticipated upcoming release (my kingdom for an early copy of this book).

Fire in the East by Harry Sidebottom (2008)

Fire in the East Cover

Fire in the East is an excellent historical fiction novel that I had an amazing time reading some years ago. The very first novel from Harry Sidebottom, who would go on to write some amazing books like The Last Hour and The Lost Ten, Fire in the East had a very impressive Roman siege storyline, that few other historical fiction authors have come close to matching.

Promise of Blood by Brian McClellan (2013)

promise of blood cover


Planetside
by Michael Mammay (2018)

Planetside Cover 2

The final book in my list is Planetside, the addictive and exciting science fiction/thriller hybrid whose sudden and destructive conclusion absolutely blew me away. Mammay did an outstanding job with his first book, and last year’s sequel, Spaceside, is also really worth checking out.

Well that’s my Top Ten List for this week. I rather like the list that I came up with, and there is a good collection of novels there, although it is slightly more fantasy-heavy than I intended. For some of these books I really need to go back and reread them at some point so that I can do a Throwback Thursday review of them. This is probably a list that I will come back to in the future as well, as there are always impressive new debuts coming out. For example, this year I have already read a fantastic debut, The Last Smile in Sunder City by Luke Arnold, and I am also looking forward to several great sounding upcoming debuts like Assault by Fire by Hunter Ripley Rawlins and The Kingdom of Liars by Nick Martell. In the meantime, be sure to me know which of the books above are your favourites, as well as which debut novels you would add to your Top Ten list.

Howling Dark by Christopher Ruocchio

Howling Dark Cover

Publisher: Gollancz and Recorded Books (16 July 2019)

Series: Sun Eater – Book 2

Length: 679 pages or 28 hours and 3 minutes

My Rating: 5 out of 5 stars

Outstanding new author Christopher Ruocchio, who blew me away last year with his debut novel, Empire of Silence, returns with the second book in his brilliant Sun Eater series, Howling Dark.

Empire of Silence was one of my favourite books from last year, easily making my Top Ten Reads for 2018 list, and I absolutely loved the author’s highly addictive story and its vast new science fiction universe. This was a fantastic first book from Ruocchio, and when I finished it, I really wanted to know what happened next. As a result, I have been waiting to read this sequel for a while, having done a Waiting on Wednesday article on it and including it on my Top Ten Most Anticipated July – December 2019 Releases list. I was pretty excited to receive a copy of this book a few weeks ago, especially as Ruocchio was nice enough to mention my blog in his acknowledgements (this has not affected my review or rating in any way). However, due to having a huge number of other books that were high priority reads, I ended up listening to the audiobook format of Howling Dark instead, which is narrated by Samuel Roukin. I had extremely high hopes when I started reading this book, and I was definitely not disappointed by the final result.

The Sun Eater series is set far in humanity’s future, where humans have left Earth and expanded out to thousands of worlds. While humanity, mostly in the form of the Roman-inspired Sollan Empire, has flourished, for the last four hundred years they have been fighting a brutal and destructive war with the Cielcin, a spacefaring race of aliens who have destroyed hundreds of colonies and billons of humans. Each of the books in the series is written as a part of the autobiographical chronicle of series’ protagonist, Hadrian “Halfmortal” Marlowe, otherwise knowns as the Sun Eater. Hadrian is the man who will one day destroy a sun in order to burn every Cielcin to a cinder, and in doing so become both history’s greatest hero and most infamous monster. However, these events are set to occur much further on in the future, and these earlier books focus on the events that formed Hadrian’s character, and show how he became the man to end it all.

In Howling Dark, the story is set some 50 years after the events of Empire of Silence. During this time Hadrian Marlowe has been wandering the outer fringes of the galaxy trying and failing to find a myth. Leading a band of mercenaries, former gladiators and disguised Imperial legionnaires, and carrying a cargo of frozen Cielcin prisoners, Hadrian hopes to travel the lost planet of Vorgossos. The planet’s mysterious master apparently has a way to contact the Cielcin, who Hadrian hopes to finally negotiate peace with, ending the brutal war that has ravaged both races.

However, finding Vorgossos has proven far more difficult than Hadrian initially anticipated. The legendary planet is well hidden, and the only way to uncover its location is to deal with the Extrasolarians, a group of humans who live outside of Imperial control and whose reliance on technology and enhancements borders on the heretical. As Hadrian and his companions locate a promising lead, they are suddenly ordered back to the fleet as the war against the Cielcin needs every soldier.

Determined to bring his plan for peace to fruition, Hadrian and his companions disobey these orders and go rogue. Entering the worlds of the Extrasolarians, the Exalted and other grim horrors at the edge of the known universe, they are able to obtain passage to Vorgossos. However, what they find at their destination may be even worse than the alien foes they are attempting to contact. Between facing technological monstrosities, a cruel, immortal king and the appearance of humanity’s oldest and most feared enemy, Hadrian has his work cut out for him. But the further along his path he travels, the more Hadrian begins to understand the grim destiny in front of him and the terrible cost he will have to pay.

This is another epic book from Ruocchio! Howling Dark is a dark, gothic science fiction masterpiece that was an absolute treat to read, and which really highlights the author’s creativity and ability to create a wide-ranging universe with some unique and captivating features.

This was another incredible and ambitious story from Ruocchio, who takes the reader on an extended and powerful adventure through his great universe. The Howling Dark contains a lengthy and compelling plot which goes in some very interesting directions. While this is a long book, Ruocchio does a great job of pacing the story out, and there is rarely a moment where the plot is not progressing in an intriguing way, or where the reader is left bored. I really enjoyed some of the dark places that the author took the story in this book, and there are a variety of cool new locations, antagonists and other monsters that the protagonist and his friends need to deal with in one way or another. Hadrian goes through some notable character development in this story as he takes more and more steps down the road to becoming the biggest legend in the universe. Howling Dark has a pretty epic conclusion to it, with some major plot developments occurring in the last 100 pages or so, and I really liked how Ruocchio wrapped up the storyline. Overall, this book has an intense and captivating storyline to it, and I am exceedingly glad I got a chance to read it.

I did find that the start of the book was a tad hard to get into. Due to the complex storylines (and possibly because I have read so many different books in the last year) it took me a little while to remember whom some of the characters were and where the plot was up to. It did not help that the story had jumped ahead by 50 years, and some of the events that occurred during this break are mentioned a few times at the start of the book. However, once I was able to get my bearings, it did not take me long to get hooked on the story and I had no problems following the enjoyable plot, especially as the author does a great job explaining these missing events and offering the reader several recaps of the events from the first book. Readers of the physical copy of Howling Dark will also be helped by the detailed dramatis personae, index of worlds and lexicon of terms that is included at the back of the novel, which can really help to clear up some confusion about the events that have occurred. I would say that readers would probably be best served checking out Empire of Silence first before trying to read Howling Dark, but I believe that new readers will be able to fully enjoy this story once they reach the recaps and get a sense of what happened in the previous books.

I really enjoyed how Ruocchio continued to write his story in the chronicle format that worked so well in the first book. Each of the books in the Sun Eater series are presented as part of a self-written chronicle of Hadrian’s life, penned some years in the future after he destroyed the sun. As a result, the story is told exclusively from Hadrian’s perspective and features his memories of the various events that formed his character. This is a great way to tell the story, mainly because the reader gets to see a contemplative version of the narrative. There is a real and palpable sense of regret in Hadrian’s narration, which really adds to the book’s grim tone, as the reader gets to hear the protagonist recount events that are not only traumatic for him, but which set him down the path to his defining moment. Due to Hadrian’s lifetime of self-reflection, you also get a far more in-depth examination of the character’s motivations for taking certain actions, as well as an analysis of why other characters acted the way did, which adds a great edge to the story. I also liked how the protagonist hinted at some of the key moments that occur later in the book or may occur in later books. This dramatic irony does a wonderful job of keeping a sense of tension in the air, as the reader knows that the worst is yet to come. Ruocchio’s use of the chronicle format for these novels is cleverly done, and I really enjoyed how it helped enhance the overall story.

Possibly Ruocchio’s biggest strength as a writer is his amazing ability to come up with a widespread and intriguing new universe to use as a setting for his fantastic story. This was one of my favourite things about Empire of Silence, as I loved the large, sprawling human empire that Hadrian lived in during the first book. This Sollan Empire was created after a major war with artificial intelligences thousands of years before, and therefore any technology that is too advanced or which thinks for itself is considered heretical by a controlling religious organisation. The massive empire is heavily inspired by the Roman Empire, with a similar government, military system, social castes and culture. This also affects the overall tone of the story, as the narrator, Hadrian, is a true son of this empire, and thus has a classical education that guides his overall view of life. As a result, the story is filled with the Hadrian quoting a number of historical verses and aphorisms to tell his tale, which really helps to give the overall story a more classic tone in the science fiction environment. I really liked this cool combination of science fiction elements with this antique mindset, and the general history of the Sollan Empire, with its veneration of other historical empires such as the Romans or the Victorians, is deeply interesting. This Sollan Empire actually reminded me a bit of the Imperium from Warhammer 40k, which also has a Roman inspiration and overarching gothic theme to them. As a fan of Warhammer 40k, it was cool see a universe built along similar ideas, and Ruocchio comes up with a number of clever and unique new elements to make his Sollan Empire stand out. Although most of the story in Howling Dark is spent outside of the main empire, the author still spends time expanding on elements of this massive organisation, and the reader gets more of a sense of them. I especially enjoyed seeing the Imperial legions in battle during this book, and it results in a number of incredible scenes that I really enjoyed.

Ruocchio also does an outstanding job introducing a number of intriguing new universe elements to this book in the form of the Extrasolarians. I found the dive into the world of the Extrasolarians to be extremely fascinating, especially as Ruocchio let his creativity run wild during this part of the books, coming up with all manner of technological marvels, body augmentations, genetic modifications and other science fiction wonders. However, many of these technologies have a darker side to them, which the protagonist and his friends find out the hard way. Some of these modifications are downright creepy, and this really helped the author create a dark and distinctive expansion to his universe. I was especially impressed with one of the new antagonists of this story, Kharn Sagara, a sinister, technologically enhanced ancient with hidden motivations (check out the cover below to see how cool his character design is). The reader also gets a much more in-depth look at the Cielcin in this book, as the protagonist starts to understand more about them and how they think. Ruocchio does a fantastic job exploring the mindset of these creatures and showing them as truly alien beings with very little similarities to humanity, and the reader starts to get an understanding of why Hadrian will eventually be forced to destroy them. All of this is really cool, and I could honestly go on for pages about all the cool world building that Ruocchio does in this book, it was that impressive.

As I mentioned above, I ended up listening to Howling Dark’s audiobook format. The audiobook runs for 28 hours and 3 minutes and is narrated by Samuel Roukin, who does a fantastic job bringing this story and the characters to life. This is a lengthy audiobook, and readers will need to make a bit of room in their listening schedule to get through it. It is actually the longest science fiction audiobook that I have ever listened to (so far) and would easily make my Top Ten Longest Audiobooks That I Have Listened To list. I found that Howling Dark’s audiobook format was a great way to enjoy this epic novel. I always find that listening to a complex story helps me absorb a lot more of the story and universe details, making for a much fuller read. This was definitely true for Howling Dark, as I was able to really appreciate the huge amount of gothic science fiction detail that Ruocchio installed in his work. I also found that Roukin’s narration also did a wonderful job of capturing Hadrian’s inherent regret and despair, and this really helped me appreciate the entirety of the book’s story. Roukin also creates some terrific voices for the various characters and does a fantastic job bringing them to life through the audiobook. This was a fantastic format to enjoy Howling Dark with, and I will strongly consider listening to the audiobook of the next book in this series.

Overall, I think that Christopher Ruocchio does an excellent job following up on his spectacular debut, Empire of Silence. Howling Dark is an amazing read that I absolutely loved. Ruocchio has come up with a complex story for this book, which is massively enhanced by his clever writing style and impressive imagination. Clearly, Empire of Silence was no fluke, as Howling Dark gets a full five stars from me. I am really looking forward to checking out the next book in the series, especially as Ruocchio has left a huge number of intriguing storylines open, and I fully intend to stick with this series until Hadrian destroys that sun.

Howling Dark Cover 2

Top Ten Tuesday – Book’s I Loved with Fewer than 2,000 Ratings on Goodreads.

Top Ten Tuesday is a weekly meme that currently resides at The Artsy Reader Girl and features bloggers sharing lists on various book topics.  This week’s challenge is to provide my top ten books that I loved with fewer than 2,000 ratings on Goodreads.

While in theory this sounds like an easy list to produce, I actually found that I had some real difficulty finding books with fewer than 2,000 ratings on Goodreads.  Quite a few of my favourite books, series or comic books all had more than 2,000 Goodreads ratings, so I had to sadly exclude them.  I was actually surprised at some of the books that had more than 2,000 ratings and I had to do quite a detailed search of my library and comic collection to come up with this list.  In the end, I had to omit pretty much all my favourite fantasy and historical fiction series, as most of the books within them had been rated way more than 2,000 times.  Still, I was able to come up with a very interesting top ten list that features a wide range of fantastic books I would definitely recommend.

 

Honourable Mentions:

Punisher Max, Vol. 1: In the Beginning by Garth Ennis and Lewis LaRosa – 1,652 ratings

Punisher Max 1 Cover

Empire of Silence by Christopher Ruocchio – 967 ratings

Empire of Silence Cover

Teen Titans, Vol. 2: Family Lost by Geoff Johns – 886 ratings

Teen Titans 2 Cover.jpg

My List – In order of Goodreads Ratings:

 

Green Arrow, Vol. 3: The Archer’s Quest by Brad Meltzer, Ande Parks and Phile Hiester – 1,933 ratings

Green Arrow Archer's Quest.jpg

The Green Arrow series that begin in 2001, following the resurrection of the original Green Arrow, Oliver Queen, in Kevin Smith’s Quiver, has to be one of my favourite runs of Green Arrow.  Not only did it feature some great storylines and some excellent characters both new and old but it also focused on a truly flawed DC superhero.  Easily my favourite out of the stories featured in this series is the third volume, The Archer’s Quest, written by thriller and mystery writer Brad Meltzer.  Meltzer has written several of my favourite DC comic books, including the incredible Identity Crisis (which unfortunately has over 18,000 ratings, or it would certainly be on this list).  The Archer’s Quest is a fantastic story that sees Oliver attempting to come to terms with his resurrection by heading out on a road trip with his former sidekick, Roy Harper, in order to retrieve several items from his past that have deep emotional significance to him.  What follows is a touching journey that sees the original Green Arrow interact with a number of characters from his past while also offering the reader several major character revelations.  This is a classic Green Arrow tale that all fans of the character need to check out, and I am very glad it squeaks in at just below 2,000 ratings.

Usagi Yojimbo, Volume 2: Samurai by Stan Sakai – 1,410 ratings

Usagi Yojimbo Samurai Cover.jpg

I have mentioned on my blog before how much I love Stan Sakai’s Usagi Yojimbo series, and quite frankly I would award all 32 volumes five stars.  However, the second volume of this series, Samurai, stands out as one of the best early volumes in this series, which sets out much of the protagonist’s backstory and establishes a number of future storylines and characters.  It is also when Sakai hits his stride artistically with his character and environment, incorporating the designs that would be a fantastic hallmark of his future volumes.  This is essential reading for those fans of this rabbit samurai, and a fantastic starting point for those interested in checking out the series.

City of Lies by Sam Hawke – 870 ratings

City of Lies Cover

Another outstanding debut from 2018, City of Lies was one of the best fantasy books I read last year. After the much-deserved hype it has received online I was surprised that it only had 870 ratings.  With its iconic poison-based storyline, this was an incredible book that successfully introduces a fantasy series with a lot of potential.

The Pericles Commission by Gary Corby – 749 ratings

The Pericles Commission Cover.jpg

The Pericles Commission is the first book in the Athenian Mysteries series (also known as the Hellenic Mysteries series) by Australian author Gary Corby, which has to be one of my favourite historical crime series of all times.  Released in 2010, The Pericles Commission is the best book in this series and it also served as an excellent introduction into this fun series.  The Pericles Commission is a fantastic blend of historical fiction and murder mystery that also contains a huge amount of humour, mostly achieved through a series of modern actions that feel out of place in historical Athens.  This is an outstanding book that I had a lot of fun reading and reviewing in The Canberra Times.  I still chuckle at the fantastic court scene that Corby wrote near the end of the story.

The Defiant Heir by Melissa Caruso – 745 ratings

The Defiant Heir Cover

This is the second book in one of my favourite new fantasy series, the Swords and Fire series.  I found this second book to be an excellent addition to this fantastic series, which expands on the interesting new universe while also offering some incredible character development.

Deep Silence by Jonathan Maberry – 731 ratings

Deep Silence Cover

I have mentioned Deep Silence several times in the last few months, including on my Top Ten Reads of 2018 list.  It is still one of the best new audiobooks of last year and is also the book that introduced me to the outstanding Joe Ledger series, which is one of my favourite series that I am reading at the moment.  As the other two books in the Joe Ledger series that I have read, Patient Zero and The Dragon Factory, both have more than 2,000 ratings, Deep Silence was an easy inclusion for this list.

Planetside by Michael Mammay – 682 ratings

Planetside Cover

Planetside is one of my favourite debuts of 2018 and I am very happy to be able to feature it in this list.  Mammay crafts an amazing story that blends together a great science fiction narrative with a first-rate investigate thriller storyline.  Featuring one of the best story endings of the year, this is a book well worth checking out.

Teen Titans, Vol. 5: Life and Death by Geoff Johns – 624 ratings

Teen Titans 5 Cover.jpg

Geoff Johns’s extended run on the 2003 series of Teen Titans was one of the first comic series I really got into and it remains as one of my favourite comic book series of all time.  During this series, Johns completely re-imagined the classic superhero team of the Teen Titans by incorporating standout characters from the Young Justice series and teaming them up with an older generation of classic Titans for some incredible adventures.  I had to include at least one volume of this series in this list, but this was the one I struggled with the most.  With the first volume having too many ratings on Goodreads, I had to choose between Volumes 2, 4 and 5.  While Volume 2: Family Lost, features an outstanding re-introduction of iconic DC character Raven, and Volume 4: The Future is Now, contains several amazing storylines, including a grim look into the future and a massive brawl between all the previous Teen Titans and Dr Light, I had to choose Volume 5: Life and Death in the end.  Life and Death is a bit of a companion piece to DC’s massive Infinite Crisis crossover event and features an extended look at several storylines that make up the main Infinite Crisis story.  While I enjoyed all the storylines featured within this volume, I am mainly choosing it because of the tragic fate of Superboy, who, after finally admitting his love to Wonder Girl, sacrifices himself to save the world.  As it features one of my top comic book moments of all times, this volume of Teen Titans is a welcome addition to this list.

Pandora’s Boy by Lindsey Davis – 614 ratings

Pandora's Boy Cover

Without a doubt, Lindsey Davis’s Flavia Albia series is one of the best historical crime series running at the moment, and I am a huge fan of this amazing crimes series set deep within ancient Rome.  While I have quite enjoyed all of the books in the series, my favourite has to be the sixth book, Pandora’s BoyPandora’s Boy featured an intriguing mystery that fully utilises the book’s classic Roman setting while also creating some extremely humorous moments.

Star Wars Darth Vader: Dark Lord of the Sith, Volume 3: The Burning Seas by Charles Soule – 550 ratings

Darth Vader - The Burning Seas Cover

I have been loving this Star Wars comic series over the last year, as Charles Soule and his creative team have been doing a superb job of reminding everyone why Darth Vader is one of modern fictions biggest badasses.  The third volume, The Burning Seas, was my favourite volume of this series, and featured some exceptional storylines and marvellous artwork.  A fantastic comic to round out this list, this volume is a perfect read for all Star Wars fans.

My Top Ten Reads for 2018

2018 has been one hell of a year for fiction, with a ton of great novels and comics from a variety of genres.  Throughout this year I have had the pleasure of reading a huge number of outstanding novels and now I have the hard task of deciding what my favourite books of the year were.  So below, in no particular order, are the books I believe were the best of 2018:

Skyward by Brandon Sanderson

Skyward Cover

This is one I only just reviewed a few days ago, but it is easily one of the most incredible books of 2018.  Legendary science fiction and fantasy author Brandon Sanderson has created another captivating read set in one of his trademark intricate new worlds.  Skyward was pretty much the best piece of young adult fiction that I read this year, and I cannot speak highly enough of the high-speed dogfights between human pilots and alien fighters.

Tombland by C. J. Sansom

Tombland Cover.png

Another book that I only just recently read, but I found it to be one of the best historical murder mysteries of the year.  Readers who get into this latest book in the Matthew Shardlake series will find a novel filled with an incredible amount of historical detail, a focus on an underutilised event from history and a deeply intriguing mystery.  All of these come together into a massively compelling narrative that proves pretty damn hard to put down for any substantial length of time.

Deep Silence by Jonathan Maberry

Deep Silence Cover

The 10th book in Maberry’s fantastically over-the-top Joe Ledger series, Deep Silence contains a wonderful mixture of weird science, thrilling espionage and some crazy science fiction elements.  All of these are pretty darn entertaining by themselves, but together they form a really fun novel that I really enjoyed, and which got me really hooked on Maberry as an author.  Deep Silence also had to be my favourite new audiobook of 2018, and I loved the expert and humorous narration by the amazing Ray Porter.

Planetside by Michael Mammay

Planetside Cover

The science fiction debut of 2018 that came out of nowhere, Planetside was an incredible thriller set on and above an alien planet.  Featuring a pretty cool mystery with some amazing twists, as well as an epic and memorable conclusion to the entire story, this was an absolutely fantastic read.  Another one with a pretty amazing audiobook, this was an awesome debut and I am already looking forward to the second book in the series.

Star Wars: Darth Vader: Dark Lord of the Sith Volume 3 – The Burning Seas

Darth Vader - The Burning Seas Cover

Darth Vader: Dark Lord of the Sith has to be one of my favourite ongoing comic book series out at the moment.  While this third volume of the series is not the only one that came out this year, it was definitely my favourite, with a range of awesome storylines that continue to set up Vader as one of the biggest villains in all of fiction.  With some incredible action, some great additions to the Star Wars lore and some intriguing references to the movies, this volume had a little something for everybody and is well worth checking out.

Bloody Rose by Nicholas Eames

Bloody Rose Cover

The follow-up to Eames’s wildly successful 2017 debut, Kings of the Wyld, this is an extremely fun and highly action packed fantasy adventure.  Featuring a fantastic band of fantasy characters as they tramp across the landscape in a journey reminiscent of a rock group tour, this book lives up to its substantial hype and is one of the most straight-up entertaining reads of 2018.

City of Lies by Sam Hawke

City of Lies Cover

From fellow Canberran Sam Hawke comes this outstanding piece of fantasy intrigue in what was probably one of the best fantasy debuts of 2018.  Featuring an incredible poison based storyline, this was an amazingly compelling read that contained a number of outstanding mysteries and conspiracies, as well as setting up a new fantasy world for a great new fantasy series.

Empire of Silence by Christopher Ruochhio

Empire of Silence Cover

Debuting science fiction writer Christopher Ruochhio came out of the gate swinging this year with this epic space opera.  Featuring a massive new universe in the future and focusing on the adventures of the man destined to kill a sun, Empire of Silence is a really impressive first outing from this author and an excellent introduction to a bold new science fiction series with a lot of potential.

The Defiant Heir by Melissa Caruso

The Defiant Heir Cover

The follow-up to one of my favourite debuts of 2017, The Tethered Mage, Caruso continues the adventure of her two mismatched companions in this fast-moving sequel that contains all the elements I loved about the first book.  Caruso doubles down on the insane magical action and presents a new range of intriguing fantasy adversaries.  An epic second book and a fantastic magical adventure.

The Seven Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle by Stuart Turton

The Seven Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle Cover

This was another awesome debut for 2018 as author Stuart Turton comes up with an outrageous original concept and uses it to create one of the year’s best mysteries.  Essentially a combination of Groundhog Day, Inception, Downton Abbey and one of the old classic murder mystery series, The Seven Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle was an extremely clever read that proved very hard to put down.

Honourable Mention:

Salvation by Peter F. Hamilton

Salvation Cover

Deceit by Richard Evans

Deceit Cover

Pandora’s Boy by Lindsey Davis

Pandora's Boy Cover

Happy New Year Everyone!!!

Empire of Silence by Christopher Ruocchio

Empire of Silence Cover.jpg

Publisher: Gollancz

Publication Date – 3 July 2018

 

First time author Christopher Ruocchio boldly introduces himself with his five-star debut, Empire of Silence, an extraordinary and spellbinding science fiction epic.

In the far future, humanity has left Earth behind and made its home in the stars by colonising thousands of the planets.  However, expansion was halted when the humans encountered the Cielein, the only other race in the galaxy with the ability to travel through space.  For years, the humans and the Cielein fought a brutal and devastating war against each other, until one man changed everything.

That man is Hadrian Marlowe, who, for the best of reasons, destroys a sun and burns every last Cielein from the stars.  This destruction also results in the deaths of four billion humans, including the Emperor of Sollan Empire.  After this infamous act, Hadrian is considered throughout the galaxy as both humanity’s greatest hero and its most terrible villain, known as The Sun-Eater, Starbreaker, Palekiller and Deathless.  But how did one man who was neither a soldier nor a hero seize such a responsibility and commit such atrocities?  The Sun Eater series is the chronicle of Hadrian’s life, of which Empire of Silence is the first part.

Born the eldest son of a noble house, Hadrian fled his family and his overbearing father to escape his future as a member of the Chantry, The Stella Empire’s state religion.  When the ship he chartered is mysteriously abandoned en route to his destination, Hadrian finds himself stranded on the wrong planet with no means of escape and none of his family’s resources available to him.  Forced to fight his way up from the gutters, Hadrian attempts to survive on this strange new world by any means necessary.  Starting out as a beggar and thief, Hadrian eventually embarks on a career as a gladiator in the hope of making enough money to buy a ship.  But when his true identity is revealed, Hadrian must find a way to survive in a foreign court, where powerful enemies lurk around every corner.

However, all of Hadrian’s problems become immaterial when the Cielein arrive above the planet, searching for something.  Drafted into a war he never wanted to be involved in, Hadrian seeks to understand the Cielein, but finds only mysteries and secrets.  Hadrian’s path to becoming The Sun-Eater is set, and his journey begins here.

Empire of Silence is the first volume in Ruocchio’s incredibly ambitious debut series, The Sun Eater.  Featuring fantastic storytelling and a galaxy-wide setting that is breathtaking in its scope and content, this is an outstanding first book and an excellent start to a series with real potential.

Many readers will be interested to know that Empire of Silence is already receiving quite a few comparisons to Patrick Rothfuss’s highly regarded fantasy epic, The Name of the Wind.  It is an easy comparison to make, as there are a large number of similarities between the two books.  Both books contain utterly compelling content designed to capture the reader’s imagination; however, the major similarity is the use of a chronicle format to tell their massive, character-driven epics.  Like The Name of the Wind, Empire of Silence is told solely from the point of view of the protagonist, Hadrian, and takes the form of a written retrospective explaining the terrible act that makes him infamous throughout the galaxy.  The series will completely explore Hadrian’s life, examining every action that leads up to this event.

The chronicle format is a superb choice for the Empire of Silence’s epic story.  Not only does it allow the author to produce a complex and extremely detailed epic storyline but it also allows him to add to the story’s gravitas by having the narrator comment on and reflect on his actions in hindsight.  This great format also allows the author to show off his protagonist in a range of different circumstances.  Because of various science fiction elements, Hadrian is destined to have an extremely long life span and a great many opportunities for adventure.  Within Empire of Silence alone, Ruocchio portrays Hadrian performing a range of different roles, including the presumed heir to a planet, a scholar, a fugitive, a beggar, a thief, a gladiator, a companion and tutor to noble children, an amateur archaeologist, a translator, a torturer, a negotiator and an irregular member of the military.  Each of the different roles that Hadrian plays influences his mindset and viewpoint, which allows the reader to see him evolve in front of their eyes.  It is also interesting to note that Ruocchio has not pre-emptively indicated how many books will be in his series, a mistake some other authors using a chronicle format have made before.  This will allow him to tell the whole story he envisioned without compromising on pacing, world-building or character development in order to reach a hasty conclusion, and will no doubt result in a much more complete and enjoyable series.

The overall plot of Empire of Silence contains various storytelling elements that are masterfully combined throughout the book.  It contains everything from science fiction elements and action sequences to long discussions of the history of the galaxy in which the series is set.  There is also a series of significantly dramatic storylines, such as Hadrian dealing with the difficulties of having a self-interested and manipulative father and an uncaring family.  There are some great coming-of-age moments within the storyline as Hadrian first seeks independence from his family and their history and then tries to find his own way on a new world where he has none of his power and influence.  The reader gets to witness several powerful scenes in which Hadrian’s life changes dramatically and he desperately attempts to claim some sense of normality or sanity in this new world.  Of particular note are some very emotional scenes during Hadrian’s first encounters with the Cielcin.  In these scenes, Hadrian is forced to contend with his own curiosity, conscience and morality while stuck between his own species, represented by the cruel and domineering Empire, and the aliens that somehow appear to bear much more humanity.  This results in some truly spectacular scenes that make this book impossible to put down.

One of the most impressive and enjoyable aspects of Empire of Silence is the vast and imaginative universe in which the story is set.  Ruocchio has an extremely interesting vision of the future that readers will find quite intriguing.  The entirety of the first book is set within the Sollan Empire, which represents the largest faction of humans in the future galaxy.  This civilisation, whilst retaining some advanced technology, such as spaceships, has reverted socially and culturally following a catastrophic event many years before.  There is a rigid class system, with the nobles wielding considerable power and disregard for the ordinary people.  A religious organisation holds sway over much of the empire, using inquisitor-like tactics to control the population and prevent what they consider heresy, which includes an aversion to advanced technology.  An interesting twist to this is the large number of cameras and drones that they and the nobles use to continually survey and intimidate the populace.  The Empire’s culture appears to be strongly inspired by the ancient Roman and Greek civilisations, and their various influences can be seen throughout the book.  This is an excellent setting for such an expansive story, and the reader gets to experience a unique and compelling combination of science fiction advancements and old school ideals.

Aside from the main setting of the Sollan Empire, Ruocchio has also stacked his universe with a range of characters, aliens, mysteries and side storylines that prove to be massively intriguing for the reader.  Several of these of mysteries and side stories are explored to an extent throughout the book; however, many are left open and will carry through to later books in the series.  The protagonist interacts with a massive of number of characters, which plays into the overall concept of him having a busy life.  In order to assist the reader in keeping track of the cast of thousands, who sometimes have limited scenes within the story, Ruocchio has provided extensive indexes.  Not only do these indexes contain details of all the characters the protagonist encounters but they also contain a huge amount of history, definitions and other useful information to help the audience absorb this massive new universe.

In one of the most impressive and elaborate science fiction novels of the year, first-time author Christopher Ruocchio has shown himself to be one of the brightest new stars in the science fiction genres.  Empire of Silence contains an absolutely amazing story that makes full use of its original and immense overarching setting, and is guaranteed to capture the reader’s imagination.  This is epic science fiction at its very best, and I cannot wait for the second book in Ruocchio’s The Sun Eater series.

My Rating:

Five Stars