Publisher: Gollancz (Trade Paperback – 28 July 2020)
Series: Sun Eater Sequence – Book Three
Length: 776 pages
My Rating: 5 out of 5 stars
One of the most impressive new science fiction authors on the block, Christopher Ruocchio, returns with the third incredible novel in his epic Sun Eater series, Demon in White.
Far in the future, most of humanity is part of the Sollan Empire, which controls vast systems of space and countless people within them. The Sollan Empire has long reigned supreme and unopposed in the galaxy, but now it faces its greatest threat, a protracted war against the vicious alien race known as the Cielcin. While the Cielcins typically engage in random raids and attacks at the leisure of their various chieftains, now a series of coordinated strikes are crippling the borders of the Empire. The mastermind of these attacks is a powerful new Cielcin ruler, Syriani Dorayaica, who has managed to forge together a mighty alliance with one purpose, the complete destruction of the Empire and every human within it.
As the Empire struggles to combat this threat, all eyes turn to an unlikely hero, the rogue nobleman, adventurer and former gladiator, Hadrian Marlowe. Following his infamous exploits across the galaxy, Hadrian has been made a knight in service of the Emperor and now finds himself stationed on the Empire’s capital, Forum. Thanks to a series of successful campaigns against the Cielcin, Hadrian’s popularity and fame has spread across the Empire and many view him as the best hope to defeat the alien menace. In addition, rumours of his unnatural survival of a lethal wound from a Cielcin prince and his prophetic visions of the future have created a cult-like following around him, heralding him as a divine saviour of humanity.
However, fame and popularity have a price, and Hadrian must now contend with threatened and jealous lords, politicians, and members of the royal family as they plot to undermine and disgrace him. After several attempts on his life, Hadrian leaves to pursue his true agenda, research into the mysterious celestial being known as the Quiet, who has been manipulating Hadrian’s life while showing him terrifying glimpses of the future. Hadrian’s mission will take him to some new and dangerous places throughout the universe, until finally he comes face to face with Syriani Dorayaica, who is determined to destroy Hadrian no matter the cost. Hadrian’s road to the future seems set, but will he truly become the man who commits the greatest act of slaughter in the galaxy, or does a darker fate lie in store for him?
Now that was one heck of an awesome and expansive piece of science fiction. Ruocchio has been absolutely killing it over the last couple of years ever since he burst onto the scene in 2018 with his debut novel and the first book in his Sun Eater series, Empire of Silence. I loved this incredible debut and I was especially impressed when he managed to follow it up with an amazing sequel, Howling Dark. I have had a blast reading Ruocchio’s prior novels, and both of them have been amongst my favourite books of 2018 and 2019 respectfully. As a result, I have been really looking forward to Demon in White, and Ruocchio certainly did not disappoint as he has produced an outstanding and intensely captivating third entry in this series.
Demon in White is the third act in an expansive and compelling space opera that chronicles the life of Hadrian Marlowe, a man destined to destroy a sun, which will make him both humanity’s greatest hero and its most reviled monster. The story is told in chronicle form from the perspective of an older Hadrian as he writes the account of his life after the events of this book. Just like with Howling Dark, the story within Demon in White is set many years after the events of the previous book and details the next major stage of Hadrian’s life. Ruocchio does an amazing job of reintroducing the readers to his universe and also examining the events that occurred during the gap between the two books (some of which occurred during the 2019 novella, Demons of Arae). Despite the year-long gap between reading the second and third novels and the substantial amount of detail and information that they contained, I was able to pick up and continue the story without too many issues, quickly remembering who the characters where and what events they had experienced with the protagonist. I do think that reading the prior two novels in the series first is a must, as I could easily see readers unfamiliar with the Sun Eater books having hard time following the expansive plot of Demon in White at this late stage of the overall story. Still, this book’s ambitious and exciting narrative might prove enough to keep them going, especially if they make use of the substantial index and character list contained in the rear of the novel.
I really can not speak highly enough of the intense and clever story of Demon in White, as Ruocchio produced an epic and addictive narrative that drew me in and refused to let go. The author does a fantastic job of bringing together a ton of great elements, including the tale of a doomed protagonist, a galaxy-spanning war, a deep dive into the history of the universe and so much more, into one impressive narrative that I had an absolute blast reading. One of the things I liked the most about the book was the fact that the first half of the novel is primarily set on the capital planet of the Sollan Empire, essentially a science fiction version of Rome, which results in the protagonist getting involved in all manner of plots and political intrigue. Due to the protagonist’s popularity with the people, and the rumours that he is unkillable, Hadrian is targeted by politicians, lords, members of the Royal Family, military administrators and the Empires powerful religious organisation, and he has to deal with a number of tricky situations. I really liked this more intrigue and politics laden part of the story, and it was an interesting change from some of the previous novels. Ruocchio also dives into some more cosmic and action based inclusions as well and there are some explorations of the universe, examinations of the unknown and a several major and enjoyable battle sequences. All of this comes together extremely well, and I found myself powering through this 700+ page book to find out how it ended.
Another fantastic part of Demon in White’s story that I really enjoyed was the continued examination of the fascinating and compelling protagonist, Hadrian. Hadrian is a fantastic and intriguing protagonist for the series, since the reader knows far in advance his story is going to end in fire and death. The chronicling of his life story that is contained within these novels is always quite enjoyable, especially as the older Hadrian compiling these tales adds in his own spin to the story, ensuring that the novel is filled with his regrets and revelations made in hindsight. The protagonist also goes through some interesting character development throughout the course of the book. Not only is he introduced to a number of key figures who will have substantial impacts on his future life but he also starts to come to grips with his eventual destiny. The younger Hadrian is given some tantalising and terrifying glimpses into the future and he struggles to comprehend his potential fate as a result.
The Hadrian in this book is also a very different character than in the prior novels. Rather than the idealistic dreamer who hopes to one day make peace with the alien Cielcin, Hadrian is far more mature and battle hardened, especially after the traumatic events at the end of Howling Dark. This version of Hadrian is convinced that there is no hope of peace with his foe, and he has become more ruthless and determined as a result. However, despite these revelations, there are still fragments of the old Hadrian scattered throughout the novel, which contrasted well with his newer persona. The sense of wonder he got at seeing a group of alien auxiliaries was very reminiscent of the Hadrian we saw in the first book, especially as this wonder ended up getting him in trouble. I also liked the scenes that showed Hadrian trying to come to terms with his own legend, as his deeds and adventures have given rise to a cult-like following, with many people convinced that he is some form of divine champion or immortal being. This proved to be a fantastic aspect of Hadrian’s character throughout Demon in White, as he does not want this attention or praise, not only because it will result in conflict with the various factions in the Empire but also because he does not want to be anyone’s worshipped hero. However, many of the events that are focus of this cults worship, such as surviving being beheaded or his visions of the future, are actually true (in a sense), and he ends up having to rely on these abilities to survive the events of this novel, which is going to result in some interesting consequences.
There are also some major and fantastic emotional moments for the protagonist scattered throughout the book, such as when a long-running side character leaves him, or when he encounters a major figure from his past again. I also enjoyed seeing more of his relationship with his main love interest, Valka, and their unconventional romance has flourished over the centuries that this series has been set. Valka serves as a fantastic grounding force for Hadrian, and it is quite nice seeing them together, although the reader’s joy at seeing them together is somewhat tempered by the narrator’s hints that something tragic is bound to happen between them. All of this makes for a very intriguing protagonist, and I have enjoyed seeing him flourish and grow over the course of the first three books, moving towards his eventual destiny. I look forward to seeing how his story continues in the next novel, especially after the major events that occurred at the end of Demon in White.
I have always been impressed with the detailed and massive science fiction universe in which Ruochhio has set his series, and each of the Sun Eater books have added some new depth and unique features to this overarching setting. Unlike the prior book, Howling Dark, which was set out in the wilds of space and alien planets, Demon in White returns to the confines of the Sollan Empire, a repressive, technophobic and tradition bound galactic kingdom that is stylistically based on ancient Rome. I really enjoyed this creative science fiction setting, as it is a very dark and gothic location which clashes well with the mostly good-natured protagonist and narrator. Demon in White adds a huge amount of detail to this universe, especially as the first two thirds are primarily set on new Imperial worlds, including the capital planet Forum. As a result, there are a ton of intriguing new details and discussions about the politics, history and administration of the Sollan Empire, as well as the introduction of many significant characters, including the Emperor who Hadrian is destined to kill. The later part of the book also contains some terrific new detail, and we get a really intriguing view about how this dark Empire was founded, including more details about the war against the machines created by the precursor empire, the Mericannii (Americans). I really liked some of these dives into the past, especially as Ruocchio does a fantastic job of portraying a historical timeline that has been altered or hidden by war, destruction and political or religious censorship. As a result, the protagonists believe in a very different version of history, and wildly incorrect discussions about historical events are often quite amusing, especially their ideas about American history. Ruocchio also provides the clearest view of the origins and nature of the cosmic entity, the Quiet, who has been an overarching influence over the prior two books. This was a rather intriguing, and at times metaphysical, examination of this being, and some of the revelations in this book, including about the connection the Quiet has with Hadrian, the Sollan Empire and the Cieclin, are rather major, and will have significant impacts in the next few books. All of this proves to be exceedingly fascinating and I cannot wait to see how the author will expand on this setting in his future novels.
I also really have to highlight some of the incredible action sequences that occurred throughout Demon in White. While a substantial amount of the plot is dedicated to the political intrigue that the protagonist finds himself involved with, there are some great action sequences in this book, including a major war sequence against the Cieclin in the last quarter of the book. Ruocchio has done an amazing job building the Cieclin up as a major threat and the various bloody battle sequences against them help to reinforce this. I particularly enjoyed the great scenes where the protagonist faces off against his foe in tight and confined spaces, such as on a ship or in the depths of a city, and the author ensures that the reader gets to enjoy them in all their claustrophobic glory. Ruocchio adds to the horror by introducing a new form of antagonists in the form of giant Cieclin warriors who are cyborg hybrids enhanced with Extrasolarian (rogue human scientist) technology. These terrifying hybrids act as very dangerous opponents for Hadrian and his allies, resulting in some dramatic and high-stakes battles. Hadrian also gets some new combat abilities in this book, which add some intriguing new elements to the fight scenes and are generally quite fun to check out. Overall, those readers who are interested in seeing some intense science fiction action will not be disappointed with this book as Demon in White delivers some impressive and memorable fight sequences that really help to get the heart pumping.
In this latest novel, Christopher Ruocchio has delivered another extraordinary and captivating science fiction epic that does a terrific job expanding on his fantastic Sun Eater series. Demon in White contains an incredible and exciting story that sends its complex protagonist on a series of intriguing adventures throughout this rich and unique science fiction universe. I had an awesome time reading Demon in White and I cannot recommend it highly enough. This outstanding book gets a full five-star rating from me and if you are not already reading the Sun Eater series you need to start now!