The Last Watch by JS Dewes
Two hundred years after humanity defeated the evil alien Viators after a thousand-years’ war, the Viators return. But it’s been five years, and the hero of the war, Adequin Rake, is cooling her heels on at the edge of the universe, stuck in a deconstructed battle cruiser at the Divide, watching for the return of her enemies. It’s a boring job, but someone has to do it—and it’s going the same as usual until a new Sentinel soldier arrives, and the Divide begins to do some wonky shit. Soon everyone’s life is in danger, and it’s up to Rake—and Cavalon—to save the universe.
Okay. I don’t even know to sum up my thoughts on this one.
There was a lot of potential, and the individual parts were all there to make this shine, but in the end it was a bit of a mess. The parts came together eventually, but not enough to salvage the whole. It was just…messy.
As is my review.
It felt like I was reading fanfic written by an enthusiastic writer in their early career. I mean that in the nicest possible way, because I love fanfiction and I love fanfiction writers. The beats were all there—the emotions, the banter, the relationships, the world-building, but everything felt scrambled together and haphazardly rearranged. As such, everything failed to hit right. It felt…off. To the point where I felt I like I read a different book than everyone else.
Particularly the world-building hit not so great. There are a lot of terms thrown about, and normally I’m okay with that early on in the book because I expect details to unravel later, but when the definitions and explanations did come, it was well after the necessary time. There’s a lot of unpack in this world—mega corporations, clones, aliens, genetics, physics, the Divide, the military and its relationships with people, being a ship captain (whatever that meant??? It seemed Rake’s inabilities were all part of her mind????), a romance, space battles, lots of zipping to and fro from places, time ripples, etc., etc., etc., there was a lot and it felt like things were popped out there without elaboration or explanation or connection, and while I don’t like things spoonfed to me, I like a little more connective tissue between the threads, particularly when I can see what the author is trying to do but it’s just not entirely coming together.
Additionally, the relationships failed with me. Cavalon is the quirky, smart-but-fuckup prince sent to the Divide to shape the fuck up (but really sent for other reasons). Adequin Rake is the stand-up military hero filled with conviction and boredom and angst over not doing enough as a leader. Their relationship felt forced the entire time (they are not romantic), and the secondary characters all felt like names on a page instead of actual people, including my favorites—Jackin and Puck. I felt nothing for Adequin’s relationship with what’s-his-face, because it was a haphazard mix of tell vs show, and he was basically a hot, older name on the page instead of a person who felt real.
One of the things I did like is that the book addresses a lot of misconceptions about dying in a vacuum and operating in space. So bonus points for that (although not so sure about the whole concept of a line of parked cruisers at the edge of the universe—that was something that I just couldn’t wrap my head around).
I probably would have been able to overlook a lot of the failures in character development and world-building—and even the very uneven pacing of this book—except it was so…so.
Okay, how do I even start this?
Well, the book starts off with Cavalon getting anally probed in a search for contraband. Like, he’s literally bending over, making a joke about it, and then oops there’re the fingers. He’s joking about it to disperse some of his awkwardness and discomfort in the entire situation, but still.
The tone is jovial but the subject matter is—well. It’s a man getting anally probed. It’s a prison rape joke, perpetuated with the guard/prisoner dynamic. It’s played off as all well and standard, but again, there’s the joke aspect underlying what happened. I just—it hit me wrong. I might be misreading it, but again, if it had been approached a little better instead of this weird tonally funny vibe, I might have been okay? But it just felt like the entire situation was approached as a joke, and I wondered why the hell this was literally the first scene in the book—or hell, why it was included at all. It added nothing to Cavalon’s character, nothing to the story line, it sure as fuck wasn’t funny (prison rape jokes never are, and neither are military processing “examination” jokes) or handled well.
Plus, there’s another scene were Adequin and Cavalon are trying to make a repair outside the station because only those two can do it, and they tell a story to get Cavalon’s mind off the dangers of space walking and being outside in a vacuum. Adequin’s story is how she joined the military as a sixteen year old (and lied about her age to the recruiter), and Cavalon jokes about her seducing the recruiter/the recruiter taking advantage of this young “seductress.”
Jokes about statutory rape are never cool, and it really grates when folks joke about recruiters taking advantage of poolees (or the idea of the jailbait seductress taking advantage of the poor, older man who is actually in the position of power in this situation), because these are both very serious issues, and are things that run rampant in the military today. Granted, it turns out (much later) that Adequin’s recruiter actually had integrity and put a quick stop to her flirting, but it was still written in a way that diminished the very real impact of that action.
Perhaps both these scenes hit me because I was in the military and things like this affected me personally. For example, after I was commissioned, a fellow second lieutenant asked me if the sergeant instructors took away the buffer of our rifles (ngl they legit look like vibrators but also ew) because he’d heard that the female OCS candidates would masturbate with them in our squad bays at night. (Also the whole anal probing thing to make sure you didn’t have anything inside you doesn’t happen in the military?? Maybe in prison, which is kind of what the Divide duty station is, but still—I feel like it should have been written differently or kept out—and maybe it is kept out in the final version).
Secondly, you wouldn’t believe the number of people who have asked me if I did something inappropriate with my recruiter (firm no), or the number of Marines I have known who were physically assaulted or harassed by their recruiter taking advantage of these young people—and you wouldn’t imagine the kinds of jokes you hear about it. Recruiters having sex with their poolees is a fucking punchline, and it’s an awful stereotype women in the military endure. Seeing it here—with an underaged kid flirting with a recruiter to get what she wants—set up as a joke/trivial story and kinda played off as not a big deal (it was addressed later, to an extent, but the damage was done, and they didn’t really address the underaged aspect or the power differentials), was really annoying.
Anywho, so while the pacing is uneven, the character development is kinda all over the place, and the world-building is messy, I really just had a hard time with the tone of this. And especially with those two scenes (there were a couple others that felt the same to me, but I didn’t include them).
I feel that it tried to do too much and didn’t provide enough connective tissue to hold everything together, and that it really needed some sensitivity readers to handle the subjects that might not seem sensitive or touchy, but totally were.
So long story short—it was messy.
I can 100% see the appeal—plucky cast of outcasts banding together to save the universe in space—and I even kept reading to see if it would get better and hit the pitches it was swinging at, but the execution was just a big no for me. There were a lot of balls being thrown (to continue my shitty baseball analogy) but not hits.
I received this ARC from NetGalley for an honest review
The Last Watch releases April 20, 2021 from Tor.