Waiting on Wednesday – Kingdoms of Death by Christopher Ruocchio

Welcome to my weekly segment, Waiting on Wednesday, where I look at upcoming books that I am planning to order and review in the next few months and which I think I will really enjoy.  I run this segment in conjunction with the Can’t-Wait Wednesday meme that is currently running at Wishful Endings.  Stay tuned to see reviews of these books when I get a copy of them.  For this latest Waiting on Wednesday I check out an impressive sounding upcoming space opera that is bound to be one of my favourite books of 2022, Kingdoms of Death by Christopher Ruocchio.

Kingdoms of Death Cover

Over the last few years, one of the absolute best science fiction series I have had the pleasure of reading was the epic Sun Eater Sequence by Christopher Ruocchio.  This series started in 2018 with Ruochhio’s debut novel, Empire of Silence, an outstanding novel that followed compelling protagonist Hadrian Marlo.  Set in a gothic far future, Hadrian is a man doomed to universal infamy after ordering the destruction of a sun to commit an unforgivable act of genocide.  Told as a chronicle written by an older Hadrian, Empire of Silence detailed his earlier adventures and served as an amazing introduction to the characters and the setting.  I had an awesome time reading Empire of Silence, and it ended up being one of my favourite books of 2018.  Ruocchio has since written two excellent sequels, Howling Dark (one of my favourite books and audiobooks of 2019) and Demon in White (one of my favourite books of 2020).  All three novels have been five-star reads, and I have deeply enjoyed the complex and captivating narrative that Ruocchio has set up.  So, you can imagine my excitement when I saw that the series will continue early next year with a fourth book, Kingdoms of Death.

Kingdoms of Death, which is currently set for release in March 2022, will continue to follow Hadrian as his legend and reputation grows to new heights.  This novel will be set around a century after the events of Demon in White (the characters are very long lived, especially as they spend a lot of time in cryogenic sleep while travelling between planets) and will initially detail the consequences of the events that saw Hadrian use unusual reality-bending powers to cheat death.

Synopsis:

The fourth novel of the galaxy-spanning Sun Eater series merges the best of space opera and epic fantasy, as Hadrian Marlowe continues down a path that can only end in fire.

Hadrian Marlowe is trapped.

For nearly a century, he has been a guest of the Emperor, forced into the role of advisor, a prisoner of his own legend. But the war is changing. Mankind is losing.

The Cielcin are spilling into human space from the fringes, picking their targets with cunning precision. The Great Prince Syriani Dorayaica is uniting their clans, forging them into an army and threat the likes of which mankind has never seen.

And the Empire stands alone.

Now the Emperor has no choice but to give Hadrian Marlowe—once his favorite knight—one more impossible task: journey across the galaxy to the Lothrian Commonwealth and convince them to join the war. But not all is as it seems, and Hadrian’s journey will take him far beyond the Empire, beyond the Commonwealth, impossibly deep behind enemy lines.

I am really excited about this upcoming novel, and it sounds like Ruocchio has a pretty awesome and compelling story in store for us.  The above synopsis has a lot of cool details, such as the fact that Hadrian will start the novel a prisoner, which isn’t too surprising as the third novel ended with an entire planet praising him and declaring him a god, right in front of the jealous son of a galactic emperor.  This will no doubt continue to play into the political and religious intrigue angles that were so fascinating in Demon in White, and I look forward to seeing how the universe has changed over the last century.  The fact that the Emperor gets desperate enough to unleash Hadrian once again is pretty telling, and it sounds like we are getting closer and closer to the final showdown between humans and the alien Cielcin, which will result in Hadrian’s ultimate act of destruction.  I cannot wait to see what devastating events result in the usually good-natured and merciful Hadrian to commit to such a terrible course of action, and it should result in some exceptional storytelling.

Another part of the above plot that I am quite excited about is the fact that Hadrian will be visiting another human civilisation in the Lothrian Commonwealth.  The Lothrian Commonwealth has been mentioned multiple times throughout the first three novels, but it will be really fascinating to see the protagonist and his companions visit it.  Ruocchio is particularly good at universe building, and he will paint a detailed and captivating picture of this new society, which should serve as a distinctive alternative to the dark, repressive, and anti-technological Empire the series has primarily been set in.  It should also provide opportunities for additional political intrigue and espionage as Hadrian needs to convince them to join in the war against the Cielcin.  I also like the hint at the characters heading behind enemy lines, and it should prove very thrilling and compelling to see Hadrian once again come into conflict with the very dangerous Cielcin, especially if the series big bad once again shows up to face him.

I think at this point it is obvious that I am extremely keen for the next exciting entry in the Sun Eater Sequence.  This series has already been incredible, and the fourth entry, Kingdoms of Death, has an immense amount of potential.  Based on how outstanding the series has already been and on Christopher Ruocchio’s amazing writing ability, I am extremely confident that I am going to love this new novel and I have no doubts what-so-ever that it will be one of the top books of the year.

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Waiting on Wednesday – Demon in White by Christopher Ruocchio

Welcome to my weekly segment, Waiting on Wednesday, where I look at upcoming books that I am planning to order and review in the next few months and which I think I will really enjoy.  I run this segment in conjunction with the Can’t-Wait Wednesday meme that is currently running at Wishful Endings. Stay tuned to see reviews of these books when I get a copy of them. For this week’s waiting on Wednesday, I check out the upcoming third instalment of one of my favourite current science fiction series, Demon in White by Christopher Ruocchio.

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Demon in White is the third book in Ruocchio’s debut series, the Sun Eater series, which started back in 2018 with the author’s first novel, Empire of Silence. The Sun Eater series is set in humanity’s distant future and revolves around the character of Hadrian Marlowe. Hadrian is a legendary figure and a renowned warrior, scholar and adventurer who is destined to one day obtain great infamy by exploding a sun, a feat that not only destroys an entire alien species but also results in the death of the Emperor of humanity. The books in the Sun Eater series follow an autobiographical account of Hadrian’s life that chronicles all of his formative moments and adventures, as well as the events that led to him making the terrible decision to cause so much destruction and harm. Demon in White will apparently follow Hadrian at a point when he has just started to obtain his galaxy-wide fame and acclaim and will continue his exploration into the mysterious forces that seem to be affecting his destiny.

I am a huge fan of the Sun Eater series, having fallen in love with the first book, Empire of Silence, due to its enthralling story, amazing gothic style and intriguing new science fiction universe. Its sequel, 2019’s Howling Dark, was just as impressive, especially as it took its story in some interesting new directions and presented some amazing and captivating sequences. I ended up awarding both of these novels a full five-star rating when I read them, and I consider them to be amongst my favourite books of 2018 and 2019 respectively. As a result, I am very excited that a new addition to the series is coming out soon, especially as it has a very cool-sounding plot synopsis.

Goodreads Synopsis:

The third novel of the galaxy-spanning Sun Eater series merges the best of space opera and epic fantasy, as Hadrian Marlowe continues down a path that can only end in fire.

Hadrian has been serving the Empire in military engagements against the Cielcin, the vicious alien civilization bent on humanity’s destruction. After Hadrian and his Red Company achieve a great victory, a cult-like fervor builds around him. However, pressures within the Imperial government scared of his rise to prominence result in an assassination attempt, luckily thwarted.

With the Empire too dangerous to stay, Hadrian and his crew leave for a massive library on a distant world. There, he finds the next key to unlocking the secrets of the Quiet: a set of coordinates for their origin planet, unnamed and now lifeless. Hadrian’s true purpose in serving in the military was to aid his search of a rumored connection between the first Emperor and the Quiet, the ancient, seemingly long-dead race linked to so many of Hadrian’s extraordinary experiences.

Will this mysterious lost planet have the answers?

Based on the above synopsis, Demon in White (which is a pretty awesome title, by the way) looks like it is going to be another fascinating and enjoyable read. Not only are we going to see a lot more of the internal politics of the Roman-inspired Sollan Empire, but Hadrian and his cohorts are going to explore yet another mysterious alien planet. Some of my favourite parts of Howling Dark were when the protagonists found themselves trapped in several strange locations with all manner of technological monstrosities, and I look forward to exploring more of this fascinating and enjoyable universe. I also have no doubt that we are going to see yet another vital step in the march towards Hadrian’s destructive destiny, and I am excited to learn what events or encounters in this novel will change the protagonist and help push him in this dangerous direction.

Honestly, I have been planning to grab this book since the moment I finished Howling Dark as I am deeply curious to see how this whole series unwinds. The first two entries in the Sun Eater series have been pretty damn spectacular, and I have exceedingly high hopes for this third novel, especially after reading its intriguing plot synopsis. Demon in White is currently set for release in early July 2020, and it is among my most anticipated releases for the second half of the year. I already love the two new amazing covers that have been produced for it (while the copy of Demon in White I’ll receive will have the cover above, I kind of prefer the cover below with the figure in white on the throne, very nice) and I am sure that they will have an awesome story to match. Mark my words, this will be a book to look out for!!

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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.

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