Fiction Reviews

Howling Dark

(2019) Christopher Ruocchio, Gollancz, £10.99, pbk, 679pp, ISBN 978-1-473-21830-7


This is the second novel in Christopher Ruocchio’s ‘Sun Eater’ series after Empire of Silence, following the exploits of the noble ‘hero’ Hadrian Marlowe as he tries to prevent galactic Armageddon.  It is set in the far future, where humans are at war with the alien Cielcin who zip in, destroy planets, then disappear.

Marlowe searches for the lost planet of Vorgossos, where the Chielcin are supposed be.  Along the way he tries diplomacy to build alliances (clearly not his forte) and then ends up coming down on the wrong side of some dubious (and violent) moral choices, making him a pretty unpleasant character. Eventually he finds a guy, Kharn Sagara, who he thinks can lead him to the Chieclin, but Sagara and his Exosolarians challenge his beliefs about posthumanism – i.e. don’t tinker with basic genetics – where he comes across an echo of Kazuo Ishiguro’s novel Never Let Me Go, with kids grown for medical spare parts.  Ick.  And fantasy creeps in here and there, just to add to the mix.

The publishers would like to think it was ‘in the tradition of Iain M Banks’ and Frank Herbert’s Dune (1965) – at least that’s what it says on the cover – but it isn’t, not really, both in scope and style.  Sure it’s galaxy-spanning space opera, but it lacks the human dimension of both Dune and Banks’ Culture novels (or the plausibility) and it’s hard to identify with any of the themes or principle characters. As is true of most multi-part series you should start from the start and not pitch in in book two.  So assuming you’ve gone away and read Empire of Silence first you will probably enjoy this one too: same sprawling themes, but with more focus on Marlowe and with a much slower pace (679 very long pages).  Lots of moments that (should) make you cringe and with some expansive world-building, setting up future episodes.  Though the best I can say about it is that it has some interesting ideas but goes on a bit.

So I’ll stop now.

Mark Bilsborough


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