Publisher: St Martin’s Press
Publish Date: 20 April 2021
Page Count: 480 pages
Being compared to A Game of Thrones might be a rite of passage for new release fantasy books, but I was somewhat surprised to see J. S. Dewes’ *sci-fi* debut receive the same treatment. Ironically it’s fairly spot-on, with The Last Watch being something like the Night’s Watch in space, with the fate of the whole universe at stake. The result is a high-octane space adventure that had me tearing through the pages!
Sentinel, Sentinel at the black,
Do not blink or turn your back,
You must stand ready to stem the tide,
Lest Viators come to cross the Divide.
In an attention-grabbing opening scene, the novel introduces Prince Cavalon Augustus Mercer II… mid-body cavity search. Cav has been sent to serve on the SCL Argus by his grandfather as punishment for an unknown crime. The spaceship Argus patrols the Divide–the literal edge of the universe–for threats to the System Collective Legion. But the war against the technologically advanced Viator race from beyond the Divide ended hundreds of years ago, and the Argus now operates with a skeleton crew of misfits and criminals, underfunded and all but forgotten by the SCL.
War hero Adequin Rake leads the Sentinels, spending her time keeping her crew out of fights, but busy enough to not be driven to existential fear of the starless expanse surrounding the ship. Disaster strikes when Rake realises that the Argus hasn’t been drifting, but that the Divide is creeping closer, the universe itself is shrinking at an exponential rate. Cut off from the rest of humanity, the Sentinels race against space and time to save, well, everything.
The Last Watch reads like a blockbuster action film, which makes a lot of sense given Dewes’ experience in film and screenwriting. Feisty characters, mind-boggling physics and dangerous EVAs to fix the crucial thingy (phalange?) keep the story fast-paced and exciting from beginning to end, with plenty of snarky humour along the way.
I found Cav quite annoying at the start of the book, but while his character development feels a little artificial, I couldn’t help but love him in the end. The Last Watch has an entertaining cast of characters and plenty of found family feels. I thought I’d read enough sci-fi adventure stories to expect this by now, but it still took me pleasantly by surprise, perhaps because of the focus on military stations and roles early in the story.
Some of the exposition-through-dialogue tends to be a little on the nose, but to be fair to the author there’s quite a lot of history and nomenclature to get your head around, plus it kind of works with the action film vibe that the book has.
The tension in The Last Watch is fueled by fancy physics related to dark matter and time-altering gravity, but like Interstellar, I didn’t have to understand the science to enjoy it, so hesitant sci-fi readers needn’t worry.
I had a lot of fun with this book and raced through it much quicker than I usually read. With the fast pace and epic stakes, I’d recommend this one to fans of Megan E. O’Keefe’s The Protectorate. Check out the first chapter on the Tor/Forge blog!
Many thanks to the publisher for a copy of the book in exchange for an honest review!
Trigger warnings: drug use, addiction, emotional abuse
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