Book Review: The Last Watch by J.S. Dewes
I received a review copy from the publisher. This does not affect the contents of my review and all opinions are my own.
Mogsy’s Rating: 4.5 of 5 stars
Genre: Science Fiction
Series: Book 1 of The Divide
Publisher: Paperback: Tor | Audiobook: Macmillan Audio (April 20, 2021)
Length: 480 pages | 16 hrs and 30 mins
Narrators: Andrew Eiden, Nicol Zanzarella
Well, color me pleasantly surprised! I’m usually super skeptical with any book whose blurb invokes comparisons to The Expanse because, man, that’s one tough promise. Still, I must doff my hat to J.S. Dewes, because I have a feeling The Last Watch is about to become my next big sci-fi obsession.
To set the scene, imagine the dark and lonely reaches at the edge of the universe, beyond which simply nothing exists. This is the Divide. Here is where the Argus keeps its watch, the space station home to a ragtag crew of misfits known as the Sentinels. They are considered the dregs of society—criminals, exiles, court-martialed military personnel and ex-soldiers—all of them have nowhere else to go. However, at the Divide, they have a very important role and purpose. Their job is to patrol edges of space, maintaining the warning and defense systems in place to protect against any unknown threats. After all, it wasn’t that long ago when humanity was nearly wiped out by an alien species called the Viators, and only after multiple wars and untold number of deaths did they finally manage to drive the invaders out. Although that had been many years ago, the Sentinels aren’t about to take any chances, always remaining vigilant and on alert.
But now comes a danger no one was expecting. The Divide is starting to collapse, threatening to destroy everyone and everything with it. The commander of the Argus, a Titan veteran of Viator war named Adequin Rake, is suddenly faced with some difficult choices. With the lives of more than two thousand Sentinels now resting in her hands, their survival will depend on her next steps. First, they must find a way to stop the collapse, but with communications down and their resources stretched to the limits, the Argus finds itself isolated and cut off from all help. Left with no other recourse, Rake turns to the wise-cracking and irreverent Cavalon Mercer, an exiled prince from the Allied Monarchies of the Core. Cavalon had been sent to the Divide for apparently pissing off his family, though he alone knows the real reason. Still, while he may be a rogue and an asshole of the highest order, his upbringing and education had supplied him with a wealth of knowledge in a variety of different fields—knowledge that Rake hopes may help her get the Argus and the universe out of their current jam.
The initial setup felt a bit slow, especially those sections immediately following the opening chapters in which we first meet Cavalon, whose blithe attitude helped establish a snappy tone for the book. But once things switch to focus on Adequin Rake, the pacing takes a steep nosedive as the narrative turns to giving readers a detailed rundown of the world-building and story background. Needless to say, there’s a lot to take in, even if all the information is necessary. Then of course, we have Rake, whose personality is very different from that of Cavalon’s. As a leader, she runs a tight ship and does not tolerate any incompetence or disrespect. At the same time, she’s also compassionate and thoughtful, dedicated to her duties which includes maintaining the wellbeing of her space station and crew. Some might even say she cares too much. Regardless, this need to explain the history of the setting along with detailed backstories for all our disparate characters ultimately led to an unevenly paced introduction, and consequently a slower ramp-up.
Having said that though, I would be hard pressed to level any other criticism at The Last Watch, because simply put, the rest of the book was as close to perfection as you can get. The action? Awesome. The character development? Magnificent. As I mentioned, Rake and Cavalon may be polar opposites, but when forced to work together to stop the collapse, the efficient synergies they created were undeniable. Then there was the supporting cast. Dewes impressed me with the amount of thought and attention she must have put into creating each character, because from sidekicks to love interests, every single one of them was a well-rounded, memorable and important member of the team. Of this ensemble, I especially enjoyed Mesa, a genetically engineered human-alien hybrid known as a Savant, and Griffith, because I loved watching this tough old soldier turn all sweet and tender when he was with Rake. Honestly, though—Cavalon, Rake, Griffin, Mesa, Jackin, Puck, Emery—I could easily rave on for pages about each of them. These are people you want to root for and cheer them on when they succeed, or break down into blubbering, crying ball of tears when they go down. They feel like your friends and family.
So, I’d be careful before you go picking this up, because you will get hooked! Seriously, I needed the sequel, like yesterday. Luckily, the next book, The Exiled Fleet, is already slated for release this summer, just months away but which is still going to feel like a long time to wait. I anticipate an even more explosive and high-powered book, now that we’d be able to jump right into the action. Looking forward to it with unbounded excitement!