J.S. Dewes’ The Last Watch is the first novel in a planned series. It combines an imperial setting in the far future in familiar manner, and as a result Dewes needs more to distinguish her work. Fortunately good plotting and an enjoyable set of elements and characters go a long way toward drawing reader interest.
The book’s futuristic setting features a system of monarchy. Dewes makes a fair number of attempts to explain this, though the near millennium of a war that led to it is shrouded in enough mystery to leave the reader raising an eyebrow.
Our leads include Cavalon, a royal brat sent to a military assignment that is basically a dead drop for those deemed to have done something wrong. It is also the monitoring station for what is known as, and the series named after: the Divide. This strange barrier at the edge of space seems to destroy anything that passes through. It is an idea touched upon in science fiction before, yet taken in interesting directions in this volume.
Cavalon meets his commanding officer, a woman with the rank of Excubitor. Her surname is Rake, and she is well remembered for having scored the final decisive victory in a war against the ancient enemy aliens known as Viators. They remain a distant threat, and details about them seem downright disturbing, and in some cases slightly over the top.
In a lot of ways this volume is a classic bit of military science fiction. Featuring a cast made up almost entirely of discarded troops will cause a reader to make comparisons to The Dirty Dozen, should they be familiar with that work. The characters, lovable and hated, are all clearly drawn. There is an annoying yet stereotypical moment of refusing to turn in abusive co-workers, a common trope in military fiction and life.
This story’s universe includes some standard features: Cloning, faster than light travel, genetic engineering, human augmentation and more. Out of those it is the multiple systems of faster than light travel which play the greatest part in the complications of the story, although all prove important.
One odd element is a massive and increasing population decline occurring among humanity. This is repeatedly discussed in detail or in passing, and the stark contrast from our world makes each one more noticeable.
Overall The Last Watch is an enjoyable read that leaves the readers curious about future installments. There are questionable moments, and many elements are anything but new. Still the result is an excellent combination for what promises to be an interesting series.