Carolyn Cushman Reviews Smoke and Iron by Rachel Caine and Empire of Silence by Christopher Ruocchio

Rachel Caine, Smoke and Iron (Berkley 978-0-451-48921-0, $17.99, 432pp, hc) July 2018. Cover by Katie Anderson.

Jess takes the battle to the corrupt Great Library of Alexandria in this fourth of five volumes in the Great Library series. At the end of the last volume, Jess turned himself over to the Library – disguised as his brother Brendan, the heir to the Brightwell family of book smugglers. Jess also turned over the Scholar Christopher Wolfe and Obscurist Morgan Hault, and Wolfe didn’t know it was part of a plan. Meanwhile, Jess’s companions have their own roles to fulfill, and Jess’s father is using Thomas Schreiber’s “new” invention, the printing press, to help stir dreams of revolution. Already, a number of powerful countries are joining the fight against the Library. Only rumors of this have reached Alexandria itself, controlled by the Library, which plans a grand public execution to demonstrate its control, with Wolfe as a centerpiece, giving Jess’s schemes an unwelcome deadline. The plot twists constantly, full of betrayals, missteps, and unexpected allies. The ending’s a bit uneasy; the current battle wraps up a little easily against seem­ingly overwhelming odds, but there are losses, and new power struggles loom.


Christopher Ruocchio, Empire of Silence (DAW 978-0-7564-1300-2, $26.00, 612pp, hc) July 2018. Cover by Sam Weber.

A young man desperate to escape his powerful father’s plans for him ends up on an unfamiliar world, struggling to survive, in this massive first volume in the Sun Eater series. The story is framed with brief comments by a much older Hadrian Marlowe, a condemned man known as the Sun-Slayer. The main narrative picks up with Hadrian as a privileged teen, the eldest son of a powerful lord on the planet Delos. Unfortunately, Hadrian has scholarly leanings, and has been questioning his ruthless father’s rule – and his father is out of patience. So Hadrian runs, and things don’t go the way he plans. He ends up pen­niless on the planet Emesh and, rather than risk alerting his father, choses to live homeless, only gradually working his way up in status, discover­ing unexpected secrets involving ancient ruins, aliens, and the church that provides the law for the great Sollan Empire. That empire seems to be the real villain here, inspired heavily by the worst of ancient Rome and medieval Europe, controlled by a church ever on the hunt for heresy and illegal AI technology, enforcing the rule by fear of a cruel, genetically altered elite. It’s a weird mix, particularly with so much of this far-future high tech limited heavily by a repressive church, and the lack of an FTL drive means those who travel much between star systems end up centuries out of date. Unfortunately, Hadrian is too steeped in his society at first to see the fundamental rot for what it is, despite adventures that bring him face to face with slavery, unfair contract labor, absolute religious power, torture, suppression of the truth, and so much more, all depicted in occasionally heavy-handed detail. By the end of this volume, Hadrian still clings to many of his society’s precepts, but has seen too much of its dark side to stop questioning, particularly once he encounters mysterious alien-built ruins, and meets the aliens considered humanity’s greatest foe – aliens we know will have a major role in Hadrian’s destiny. (Both the framing narrative and a glossary and other information at the end contain tantalizing hints.) This promising and ambitious first novel provides just a taste of what Hadrian will become in this sweeping SF epic.

Carolyn F. Cushman, Senior Editor, has worked for Locus since 1985, the longest of any of the current staff, and handles our in-house books database, writes our New and Notable section, and does the monthly Books Received column. She is a graduate of Western Washington University with a degree in English. She published a fantasy novel, Witch and Wombat, in 1994.

This review and more like it in the October 2018 issue of Locus.

Locus Magazine, Science Fiction FantasyWhile you are here, please take a moment to support Locus with a one-time or recurring donation. We rely on reader donations to keep the magazine and site going, and would like to keep the site paywall free, but WE NEED YOUR FINANCIAL SUPPORT to continue quality coverage of the science fiction and fantasy field.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *