Christopher Ruocchio’s Empire of Silence was an interesting mix of retro science fiction tropes and themes more contemporary—a contrast heightened by the length of the novel (600+ pages). In 2019 Ruochio returns with the second in the Sun Eater series (trilogy? tetralogy? more?), Howling Dark, to continue the tale begun in Empire of Silence, and contextualize its quality.
Picking up many years after the events of Empire of Silence, Hadrian Marlowe is now captain of a band of mercenaries, traipsing through the stars, trying to find the planet Vorgoss to return their cryo-cargo of alien Cielcin, and attempt to forge peace. At the outset of Howling Dark, Marlowe has come to the realization that the known Sollan universe does not hold what he seeks, and that in order to fulfill his mission, he must venture beyond into the worlds of the extra-solarians—worlds of strangely modified humans, to get what he needs. Exotic locales, colorful characters, and treachery abound, Marlowe’s quest to end the war is only more fraught with danger the further he gets from Sollan lands. And in the end, it may be that the cielcin come to him, rather than him going to them. But do they come in peace?
As a whole, Howling Dark nicely maintains the science fantasy (George Lucas’s Star Wars meets Ursula Le Guin’s The Word for World Is Forest) motif established in Empire of Silence. Less militaristic, however, given Marlowe’s excursions into the anarchic wilds of humanity (and the novel a touch bio/cyberpunky for it), Ruocchio nevertheless keeps a hold on the exploration of human-Cielcin relations, all the while digging deeper into Marlowe’s character.
In terms of technique, Howling Dark is much more of a slow burn compared to Empire of Silence. Where the first novel dipped in and out of action to push the story along, the second gently escalates matters into a sustained, explosive climax. Likewise clocking in at around +/-600 pages, there may be some readers wont to give up before reaching the finale, but those who do stick around will find that a lot of their hopes for a climactic event are well satisfied. Readers get a view into Cielcin culture like never before, Marlowe’s personal situation achieves a state of vulnerability like we have not yet seen, and the wider picture of the universe is opened up. And of course, readers are lulled further into Marlowe’s tale, forgetting we already know the end of the story.
Long review short, Ruocchio has evolved his story rather than devolved it with Howling Dark. Readers looking to continue Empire of Silence—and who have the patience for the novels’ thickness—will be satisfied, and, I daresay, wanting more.