Book Review: Tales of the Sun Eater, Volume 3 (The Sun Eater, #5.5) by Christopher Ruocchio

Book Review: Tales of the Sun Eater, Volume 3 (The Sun Eater, #5.5) by Christopher Ruocchio

Review copy provided by the author in exchange for an honest review.

Cover art illustrated by James L. Cook

Tales of the Sun Eater, Volume 3 by Christopher Ruocchio

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Series: The Sun Eater (Book #5.5 of 7)

Genre: Sci-fi, Space Opera, Science Fantasy

Pages: 216 pages (Kindle edition)

Published: 15th September 2023 (Self-Published)

Tales of the Sun Eater Volume 3 is, by far, the strongest collection of short stories in The Sun Eater series so far.

My journey to read everything in The Sun Eater continues. If you are caught up on my reviews, you might remember that I felt lukewarm about Tales of the Sun Eater, Volume 1, and I liked Tales of the Sun Eater, Volume 2 more. But Tales of the Sun Eater, Volume 3 is on a higher level compared to them. I do not think this is readable without at least reading the series until you finished reading Ashes of Man. Or maybe it could be enjoyable, but you will miss out on too many emotional effects and details that could enrich your experience if you read this without reading the books in The Sun Eater first. So, please do that first before you read Tales of the Sun Eater, Volume 3. Unlike my previous reviews of the collections, I will share brief thoughts on each title. I believe, this time, each short story does earn at least a paragraph of review and respective rating as a short story.

“Halfmortal! They cried, roaring for Hadrian— Hadrian, who was alive, who had escaped that final hell. Halfmortal! Halfmortal!”

After the Feast: 4.5/5 stars

Ruocchio made the right call at making After the Feast the first title in the collection. I wish I could talk more about this in detail, but the existence of this title and any information shedding who the main character is and when the events in the title take place can be considered a spoiler. I can, however, say this is one of my favorite short stories by Ruocchio. A story about a familiar character’s valorous last stand and display of determination, power, and loyalty. After the Feast is the biggest title in the collection, but if you have read the series up to Kingdoms of Death, this short story is guaranteed to tug at your heartstrings.

“Her eyes swam, brimming with tears that could not be allowed to fall. There was no time for grief, no space for pain. There was still a battle to fight, a war to wage, a blow to strike against the enemy.”

[Re]incarnation: 4 stars

Out of Ruocchio’s catalog of short stories, the second title in the collection is most likely the most experimental short story in The Sun Eater series. Second-person POV narration is a storytelling method rarely used in science fiction and fantasy, and here, Ruocchio cleverly utilized the benefits of second-person POV to tell a story with the question: “Do machines have souls?” as its core. The story is told from a new POV character, and similar to After the Feast and the title succeeding this, [Re]incarnation is a new short story title unique to Tales of the Sun Eater, Volume 3. Surprisingly, I enjoyed this more than I expected.

“They’re machines, too, Albedo told herself. But not in the way she was. They were men—had been men—but they were part of a system, pieces of the mechanism that had made her, of the world that had made her. The world that should not exist.”

A Parable in Iron: 4/5 stars

This is the shortest title in the collection, but that does not mean this one lacks impact. Far from it, actually. A Parable of Iron is one of Ruocchio’s most thought-provoking short stories in The Sun Eater series. There’s something about A Parable of Iron that felt biblical or mythical. Throughout my time reading the series, I have always pondered that there’s no way all Mericanii or machines are evil. In comparison, Cielcin is much worse than the Mericanii. The lesser of two evils, but it is true. A Parable in Iron, assuming it is a real part of the history of The Sollan Empire, showcased there was, for a while, a kingdom of machines built out of kindness and virtue ingrained in them. And even if it is a mythical story about the harsh effects of war and eternal death, there is still a lot of food for thought and lessons humanity can learn from the story. No doubt about that. I highly enjoyed reading this short story.

“There was beauty in his world— such beauty, and sadness, too. Great climbing vines had choked the once proud tower of the enemy and torn it down, and the silence! The terrible silence of the world! He was nameless and alone— the last, perhaps, of all his kind. The network he remembered inhabiting, sharing with his brothers… the network that had inhabited him, that he served in his war with the enemy . . . that network was gone, and a thousand years of solitude had passed and brought him to himself.”

Mother of Monsters: 4/5 stars

Told from the perspective of an unlucky engineer named Valen, and although not a requirement, I think this one should be read after you finished Ashes of Man to understand more of the context referenced in the story. Learning more about The Monumentals or The Quiet is always a plus, and Mother of Monsters not only provided that but more extra content on the history of the Cielcin. Especially humanity’s first encounter with the Cielcin and Echidna. Great short story for fans of the series.

“The universe is so much older than we like to believe, older perhaps than we can believe. What you realized— whether you knew it or not— is that the Cielcin are not the only race older than our own.”

The Archenaut: 3/5 stars

Similar to most collections of short stories, not everything will be a hit. Some titles will be a hit, some will be a miss. Unfortunately, this is my least favorite short story in the collection. The Archenaut is one of those types of short stories that would benefit from becoming a novella or even a novel. As it is now, other than the last few pages where we readers learn more about Earth and the Mericanii, this was a miss for me. It was interesting that I could understand the intentionally broken formatted dialogues at the end, though.

“History did not come to life, did not sail out of the dark between the stars and menace her sleeping world. History was for books, for holographs and children. Not for the light of day.”

Gutter Ballet : 4/5 stars

This is a very different style of storytelling in The Sun Eater series. One I did not expect and one that I enjoyed reading. Gutter Ballet is a take on a noir detective story in the series. In conclusion, though, I think what made this title work for me is that Simon is a likable character. He is trying to redeem himself, and I found him to be a kind-hearted character who wants to do good as much as he can because he has another shot at life. Also, the name Vorgossos mentioned a few times in this title was a big plus for me. Without spoilers, there are so many mysteries about Vorgossos that I think Ruocchio could create a standalone novel about that location if he wants to. Admittedly, the same can be mentioned about every planet in The Sun Eater series.

“Perhaps that was all. He had come so far from home, to a half-life beyond the death that took his heart and whole world. He was a dead man, had been a long time, and so death had lost its sting. Better to die setting the world to rights—or a part of it, only—than to live on like some walking shadow. Far better. His second life had been a gift, and if all he did with it was find a way to give it back, maybe that was right. They were hard worlds, all of them, and broken. But a man needn’t be broken himself, not where it counted.”

Daughter of Swords: 5/5 stars

Wow. This was an utterly incredible short story. Do not read any words inside this title, not even what it is about if you haven’t read the series up to the completion of Ashes of Man. I could write paragraphs upon paragraphs on what made this short story so magnificent, but to put it simply, Daughter of Swords takes place after the end of Ashes of Man. And not only it is the best title in the collection, it IS the best short story in The Sun Eater series by Christopher Ruocchio. I do not even consider this as extra content; it feels necessary to read this before reading Disquiet Gods. It was impactful, emotional, and melancholy. Even though it was short, it was sufficient to immerse me in the vivid setting of Jadd, the culture of Jaddians, and most importantly, Cassandra and her relationship with her father. This is pretty much every superb thing about The Sun Eater compressed in a compact form.

“It was justice. My justice. And I have paid for it… All of Jadd is my prison, girl. Our prison. Yours and mine.”

It seems like the main books are not the only occurrence where Ruocchio keeps getting better and better with each installment, but the collections of short stories as well. Tales of the Sun Eater, Volume 3 is my favorite collection in the series so far. After the Feast and especially Daughter of Swords makes me even more excited to read Disquiet Gods, the penultimate installment in The Sun Eater series, than I already was. But first, The Dregs of Empire companion short novel awaits me. At the rate Ruocchio is improving in his storytelling skills, I have a feeling The Dregs of Empire will be my favorite companion novel in the series, too.

“To defeat the enemy without violence is the highest art,” Hydarnes said, having turned to study the relief carvings that showed Katanes the Great fighting seven men. Inscriptions in the flowing Jaddian captioned that image, words placed near the faces of Katanes and his companions to suggest a dialogue. The pen is not mightier than the sword, as weak men claim, said the icon of the great prince, seeming to give the lie to Hydarnes’s words. It is only another sword. So too is the tongue only another sword.

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