BOOK REVIEW: The Lesser Devil, by Christopher Ruocchio

-minor spoilers for Empire of Silence

lesser.jpg

Publisher: Self Published

Genre: Space Opera

Pages: 171

Publication Date: 25/02/2020

Verdict: 5/5

Hadrian Marlowe, the Sun Eater, is famous throughout the Sollan Empire and beyond. But what of his family? What of the brother he left behind? When Crispin Marlowe is the target of an assassination attempt, he must strike unlikely alliances and use everything at his disposal to protect his family . . .

One of the things I most enjoy about Christopher Ruocchio’s Sun Eater series is that is was clear right from the outset that there was a universe beyond what was shown on the page, stories to be told beyond Hadrian’s. In addition to the two main novels (of a planned five), there are several short stories, each just enough to whet the appetite in the yearly gaps between novels. The self published novel The Lesser Devil brings the longest side trek yet. A self professed ‘lite novel’, it’s only a third as long as one of Hadrian’s memoires, but that doesn’t mean it skimps on either the storytelling or the worldbuilding, and the end result is every bit as enjoyable as the main series itself.

Taking place at around the same time as Empire of SilenceThe Lesser Devil picks up with Crispin thirty years after Hadrian’s departure from the Marlowe home. With Hadrian’s story jumping decades into the future, it’s nice to back with somewhat familiar faces. Crispin is a rather more sympathetic figure here than he was in Empire of Silence, and a more mature one to boot. that being said, he’s clearly the same man he was then. Less erudite and far less brooding than Hadrian, he feels a more grounded protagonist than his near-mythical brother.  He may be more firmly rooted in the traditions of the Sollan Empire, for better and worse, and I dare he he’s perhaps more likable than his brother is turning out to be. or maybe he just has fewer opportunities to show his darker side.

Also making a triumphant return from Empire of Silence is Kara. the young pilot who Hadrian may have once loved is now an embittered soldier, and it’s in her that we get one of the most fascinating aspects of the series. The Marlowes are genetically engineered to have a lifespan measured in centuries, which is incredibly sueful, but this gift is not shared with those around them. Devoting her entire life to a family whose individual members will likely outlive her entire family, Kara cuts a tragic figure, lending a heavy does of pathos to the proceedings. She may have changed a great deal since we last saw her, but I’m glad Ruocchio has given us more time in her company.

As well as being a gripping adventure in the vein of The Seven Samurai (IN SPACE!) as Crispin allies with a remote town to repel his attackers, The Lesser Devil continues to add detail to the worlds of the Sollan Empire. In particular, we get a look at religion. Various religions have popped up already, from the cults of Cid Arthur to the politically-motivated Chantry, but here get a look at something a little more familiar: Catholicism. Crispin’s new allies are Catholic. Specifically French Catholics. It’s refreshing to see religion in SF being handled in a way that is respectful without being reverential, fun without making fun. Faith plays a key role without dominating the story, and as always there are layers upon layers to be peeled back when looking for answers.

The Lesser Devil is a fine interlude for one of the best ongoing Space Operas, and hopefully there are plenty more side treks yet to come.

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