- Contains 7 Stories
- Published by Planet 9 Press
- First Published 2022
- Space Opera
- 344 pages
The history of the Sollan Empire is as long as it is deep, and the story of Hadrian Marlowe, the Sun Eater, is not the only tale worth telling . . .
Following on from The Lesser Devil & Other Stories comes this second luxurious collection of stories from Christopher Ruocchio’s Sun Eater universe. I say luxurious not because of the stories themselves, but because Planet 9 Press (the publishing arm of limited edition experts Anderida Books) have excelled themselves with these books. There’s no needless extras like sprayed edges, just a reassuringly solid book with quality materials and construction. If you’re the sort who collects beautiful books, then these are editions you should keep an eye on.
The first half of this collection is the short novel Queen Amid Ashes, which takes Hadrian to a world ravaged by the alien Cielcin. The sheer monstrousness of the Cielcin is one of the strongest elements of this series, as is Hadrian’s slow acceptance of the fact that some aliens are so beyond human concerns, any hope of peace is doomed to failure. The Cielcin are truly inhuman, and to our eyes barbaric, but at this stage in the series, it becomes apparent that human concepts of morality simply don’t apply to a species like the Cielcin. Kingdoms of Death has some philosophy on this front that I don’t wholly agree with, but for this story the sheer alieness really comes through.
Most of the other, shorter stories in the collection show more of the universe from other perspectives. ‘Fire in the Sky’ and ‘The Dragonslayers’ both depict Cielcin invasions, from the perspectives of a civilian and a soldier respectively. Again, these stories drive hiome the extistential threat posed by the Cielcin, while also showing that they can be fought, and can be defeated. My personal favoruite story is ‘Kill the King,’ not least because it is wholly removed from the central conflicts of the main series. It’s a great little examination of what happens when the Empire is forced to withdraw from a region of space, and of the power struggle that follows, with an ending that leans heavily into the more horror-adjacent elements of the setting. Meanwhile, ‘Good Intentions’ gives more detail into the charatcer of Valka, while also showing that there is more to the alien than just the Cielcin. ‘Knowledge’ is a very short piece from Hadrian’s persepctive that feels more like a deleted scene than a story in its own right, and ‘The Four Devils’ returns to Crispin Marlowe’s perspective as the Marlowe family learn Hadrian did not die in the events of the first novel. These last two stories are a bit more slice-of-life than I prefer in my stories, but are worthy additions to the Sun Eater canon nontheless.
Also included in this collection is an in-universe history of the Marlowe family, and their various reigns over Delos. I love this addition for two reasons, the first of which is that I am a worldbuilding addict. Any chance to delve deeper into the history of a setting is one I will pounce on eagerly. But it’s also another layer in Ruocchio’s tapestry of tales. Hadrian’s main account exists as an in-universe text, and so too does this history. Along with the earlier ‘The Pits of Emesh,’ it’s some of the best use of a potentially unreliable narrator that I’ve ever come across.
In short, these stories succeed in adding more depth to one of modern science fiction’s richest universes, and also happen to be a cracking set of tales in their own right.