I have described Christopher Ruocchio’s Sun Eater series to date to be a hybrid of Ursula Le Guin and George Lucas. Space empires, laser fights, and evil aliens—there is plenty of action, but action tempered by a deeper sensitivity to language, culture, and Otherness that makes the series a little more than the latest space opera flash in the pan. (High brow literature, no, but certainly more than the average offering on the oversaturated market today.) With the short novel (novella?) The Lesser Devil (2020), Ruocchio sets a tangential course of story from the main novel arc, expanding the world he’s built and the characters in them in similar fashion.
The Lesser Devil returns the reader to the setting of Empire of Silence, the place where Hadrian Marlowe was born, raised, and ultimately escaped. Set fifty-odd years after said escape, the story tells of Hadrian’s brother Crispin and a mission his father sends him on to a remote place on their planet. To say more of what transpires in the mission would spoil the story (matter go sideways very quick). Suffice to say, the authoritarian actions of Hadrian and Crispin’s father has not been to everyone in his empire’s liking, an overdue case of revenge on the books.
As mentioned, the two Sun Eater novels to date realize a solid balance between space opera and soft science fiction. Hadrian has a number of classic space adventures, but his character and encounters with the Other have been anything but one dimensional. Which leads to the question: where does The Lesser Devil fall on this spectrum? The answer is more on the side of space adventure than character examination, but not wholly. Crispin’s inner workings are there on the page as he tries to work out his identity as well as relationship to his father, brother, mother, sister, and himself. But the arc this follows is one of tried and true American Hollywood, the conflict and battles the main source of content.
Given that The Lesser Devil and Demon in White are both coming out in 2020, I can only assume Ruocchio is a writing machine. (I assume he also has a day job.) Thus far, however, the quality of the works in the Sun Eater series is consistent, if not improving. But that does not answer the fundamental question: is The Lesser Devil a necessary read for fans of the Sun Eater sequence? The answer is yes and no. If you care only about Hadrian, his plight, his encounters with the Cielcin, and learning how he ultimately becomes a destroyer of worlds, then this book will add zero. If, however, you are a fan of the world Ruocchio has built, particularly the situation Hadrian left behind at the end of Empire of Silence, then this longer novella/shorter novel will satisfy. Given the size of Ruocchio’s universe, I wouldn’t be surprised to see more side tales like this in the future.