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Disquiet Gods: The Sun Eater, Book Six


Disquiet Gods: The Sun Eater, Book Six

Crafting a review for a series now six books deep poses some challenges. First, you do not want to reveal any of the surprises from previous installments in case a newcomer stumbles upon the review. You also need to somehow appeal to those same readers that here we are, exploring the contents of DISQUIET GODS, but you absolutely should pick up the earlier novels and begin your journey properly. And quite frankly, there is so much worldbuilding and history running through six volumes that to try to discuss those threads would 1) spoil things, and 2) render a review so long that it would be its own book.

DISQUIET GODS, the sixth and penultimate installment in Christopher Ruocchio’s Sun Eater series, continues an impressive trend --- high-quality storytelling in a timely fashion that propels the story forward. That an author can consistently produce at such an elevated bar (set by his own work) and do so without a gap of decades says a lot for the work ethic and talent on display here.

"Christopher Ruocchio once again has successfully advanced the story of Hadrian Marlowe and his complicated relationship with the Sollan Empire and the Cielcin.... Ruocchio is an exceptional storyteller, one of the finest in science fiction today and, quite frankly, still has not achieved the level of recognition that he rightly deserves."

It has been 200 years since Hadrian Marlowe drew the ire of the Emperor and found himself exiled on Jadd. No longer interested in war or service, his only compulsion now lies with the raising of his daughter, Cassandra. She is growing into a headstrong woman, and his devotion to her is tempered only by his own grief. This is all rather short-lived in the context of this tale as an ambassador of the Emperor has come to Jadd, offering a pardon in the form of a summons to perform one more task for the Sollan Empire.

A Watcher has been discovered. This being of unimaginable power, an entity worshipped by the alien Cielcin as a god, poses a threat to all life in the universe --- perhaps even to all life beyond this dimension. Hadrian’s task is a simple one, at least in theory: kill the Watcher, and his sin against the Emperor will be forgiven.

DISQUIET GODS represents a shift in the story in some key ways. First of all, the book is in the hands of a new publisher. Now residing in the embrace of Baen Books, there may have been some concerns about changes made, but you can put those to rest. The story and editorial elements are in fine form here, and nothing happens on the page that you wouldn’t have expected before. For those who prefer their books to align on the shelf properly with consistent design, you also have nothing to fear. The book itself is about a half-inch taller than the other editions and sports a shiny finish as opposed to the previous matte finish. The series keeps the top-notch art of Kieran Yanner (with a solid representation of Cassandra on the cover), and the design mirrors the former publisher’s format.

However, the story itself does pivot from the earlier entries. The Cielcin are not the primary antagonists in the quest to dominate the universe. Here, the tale leans more heavily into the fantastical --- or, dare we say, cosmic horror --- elements of the beings known as the Watchers. Additionally, the book begins with a 200-year time jump from the end of ASHES OF MAN. It is quite a leap forward and thus sets up a slower opening as we try to catch up with Hadrian and what has been happening with him during his exile.

This is not a detriment, though. It suits DISQUIET GODS and the story it wants to tell. Quite simply, the theme of the book is pain, suffering and grief, and the repercussions of those feelings --- not just on an individual, be it Hadrian or Cassandra, but on societies and their view of life and the world around them. As we’ve come to expect, Hadrian expounds on these emotions that have begun to weigh on him as he has aged. The relationship he has with Cassandra is the highlight of the book. Any parent can relate to the fear that Hadrian bears in his heart as he seeks to protect his daughter from harm and hurt, and to understand the horrifying truth that ultimately he cannot shield her from everything.

The major time shift also brings with it a new wave of characters for readers to get to know, which nudges them out of their comfort zone. One that brings heightened tension for Hadrian is Edouard, who explains that he has been in the service of Hadrian’s brother, Crispin. This brings forth a struggle within Hadrian about his past and his family, as well as the questions from his daughter about that past.

DISQUIET GODS is patient. No, not slow. Patient. It moves very casually and methodically, building to some very intense action. In many ways, it reminds one of DEMON IN WHITE in terms of its structure. The beauty here is finding a main character in Hadrian who has evolved. He is no longer the rash adventurer type as we knew when the series began, which would be centuries ago in the ages of the Sollan Empire. He is older, wiser and worn down by time and experience. Following him on his journey has been an extraordinarily successful arc, but lest anyone forget, he is telling this story, relaying these events to us in a way to justify what undoubtedly will be front and center in the concluding volume, SHADOWS UPON TIME --- his destruction of a sun that will eradicate a species and claim four billion human lives. We must never forget the complex nature of Hadrian, both hero and villain in equal measure, and how he may not be the most trustworthy narrator.

Christopher Ruocchio once again has successfully advanced the story of Hadrian Marlowe and his complicated relationship with the Sollan Empire and the Cielcin. Throughout DISQUIET GODS, he has provided endings to arcs and elements brought forth in prior novels, and has left a swath of unanswered and unresolved elements here, which will find resolution in the finale. Ruocchio is an exceptional storyteller, one of the finest in science fiction today and, quite frankly, still has not achieved the level of recognition that he rightly deserves.

Reviewed by Stephen Hubbard on April 13, 2024

Disquiet Gods: The Sun Eater, Book Six
by Christopher Ruocchio