This book. This book. I’m not sure if I’ve ever struggled so much in scoring a book as this one. On one hand, Christopher Ruocchio’s Empire of Silence is just what the critics say and so much more: a heady mix of Name of the Wind and Dune featuring a vast political climate, an incredibly sophisticated universe, a visionary amalgam of ancient Rome inside a far-flung future, with a story that threatens to peel away at the very nature of time and space and life itself. Wow! Go buy it! Stop reading this review right now!
On the other hand, Ruocchio’s tendency to include the most excruciating minutia and abstract details has ballooned this tome to an unnecessary size, turning this pleasure read into a project. The prose features long, craggy sentences full of actions and thoughts, colors and descriptions, words and phrases that wrap around themselves, over and under, leading the reader through meandering tangents and asides, describing the clothing a passerby is wearing, or the shape of a shadow that the sun paints upon the wall, until I forget where we even started, much like this sentence.
And yet. And yet! There’s an early hook to keep you interested (though you'll soon realize that you’re probably fifteen books away from getting any answers). The themes that the author addresses are meaningful and admirable. The relationships are well written, the feelings are earned, and the total dedication to the Roman futurism aesthetic is impressive. If it weren’t so frustratingly tedious at times…
I feel like there’s a 5-star book hidden inside this novel that’s about 200 pages shorter. It feels like Ruocchio is writing this book like he’s designing a movie set – depicting every scene “just so” without leaving much room for reader interpretation. That’s fine when there’s purpose behind it, and when there’s important and relevant information being passed. But as the chapters wore on, I started paying close attention to what words were padding the prose, what was truly necessary, and finding that much of it was just prattle. The book already has a large series of universe-building aspects to absorb, so I became frustrated with all the unnecessary excess by the book’s end.
Ruocchio’s mind is a clear talent. His imagination is far-reaching and detailed, and he has a good grasp on what drives a person to do the right or wrong thing. I wonder if his vision would be brought to life more effectively in a different medium, such as film, television, or a graphic novel. There seems to be a visual sense to his art that he wants to convey to his audience that his words don’t easily transmit, and I think the struggle to present this part of his vision to his audience is what hampers the reading experience.
Your results may vary.
Review by Adam Weller
Michael C from USA
VERY good read! I'm shocked it did not receive higher ratings. Meanwhile, Anne Leckie's latest, which I found disappointing as it is plodding and dull at points, and the characters are not all that engaging, received a much higher rating.
7.5/10 from 2 reviews