BOOK REVIEW: Demon In White, by Christopher Ruocchio

Spoilers for Empire of Silence and Howling Dark

demon in white.jpg

Publisher: Gollancz

Series: The Sun Eater (#3)

Genre: Space Opera

Pages: 746

Publication Date: 30/07/2020

Verdict: 5/5

Hadrian Marlowe has risen far in the ranks of the Sollan Empire, spearheading the war against the Cielcin. Yet not all threats are as obvious as the alien aggressors. In the very heart of the Empire, Hadrian may be in more danger from those he believes to be his allies . . .

Where to begin with a book like this? On the one hand, Ruochhio’s Sun Eater series is a classic space opera, filled with adventure and wonder. On the other, its thematic and philosophical underpinnings raise it above its contemporaries to an entirely new level. It’s no secret that middle books are often a tricky bridge to cross, whether that be the second in a trilogy or the eighth in a fifteen book epic. In this third of five parts, Ruocchio creates a book that stands atop the shoulders of what has come before, while still reaching higher and wider than its predecessors.

Demon in White comes in two rough parts. The first is a follow up to the promise from the end of Howling Dark, with Hadrian in the Empire’s capital of Forum. There is, as Ruocchio’s readers will expect, a large time jump between the end of the last book and the start of this one, with Hadrian already having made a name for himself. This section of the book introduces us to the Emperor, whose list of names and titles is about as long as this review. In general, there are a lot of titles and names being thrown around on Forum, each one teasing hints at the larger Sun Eater universe. Also, how can you not love a man called Cassian Powers? The intrigue and drama are brilliantly woven, but what makes it stand out the most is Hadrian’s ruminations on the nature of leadership and empires. These dives give Demon in White added depth that really makes the reader think.

The second half of the book leaves Forum behind to follow Hadrian across the Galaxy in his search for the Quiet. And this where things get weird in the best possible way. Building on the information presented in Howling DarkDemon in White answers a lot of the questions left lingering after Hadrian’s encounter with Brethren. Things start off by confirming a few theories I had about the Mericanii, but then come the revelations that blow my preconceptions out of the water. Space Opera is (in)famous for it’s loose treatment of scientific accuracy, but here Ruocchio blends cutting-edge scientific theories with bone-chilling cosmic horror. The factual basis is enough to make the mind boggle, and the concepts Ruocchio deals with after present a terrifying possibility about the impermanence of our own mortality.

Not to be left out, the Cielcin are also detailed further. Ruocchio has spoken before about the Cielcin being the barbarian hordes to the Sollan Empire’s Rome, and that parallel is clearer here than ever before. This is not a war where one side wished to conquer the other, it is a struggle where the prize is nothing less than survival. The introduction of a new Cielcin leader provides a symbolic counterpoint to Hadrian’s own journey through the strata of society. In fact, there is a lot of symbolism going on here, and it’s one of those rare books that I know I’ll be thinking about for a long while yet.

Though rooted in Hadrian’s retrospective, Demon in White continues to expand the setting beyond the simple tale of one man. The sheer scope of the narrative, both spatially and temporally, allows for off-page events to be referenced without the reader feeling as though they have missed something vital. Some of the events are detailed in short stories or novellas, but much of it remains little more than rumours on the page. I’m the sort of reader who wants to know absolutely everything about a setting, but there is no denying that Ruocchio’s mysteries lend to the mythic aspect of Hadrian’s chronicle.

The Sun Eater series has rapidly climbed to the top of my favourites list, and at the halfway mark shows no signs of slowing down. Ruocchio’s books are a must-buy for me, and I cannot recommend highly enough that you buy them too.

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