The Divide, #1: The Last Watch
By: J.S. Dewes Audiobook: 16 hours 30 minutes
Published: April 20, 2021 Narrated by: Andrew Eiden
Genre: Science Fiction, Space Opera Nicol Zanzarella
…not the nothing of a moonless night or the barren space between solar systems or galaxies. This was the nothing of the Divide, of the edge of the universe. An invisible barrier formed millions of years ago when the collective mass of the cosmos finally balanced out the dark energy, slowing and eventually halting the previously ever-expanding universe. A border that separated all matter from the void that lay beyond—the literal edge of nowhere, (Chapter Three).
When a book is being publicized, there are comparisons made to other popular and critically acclaimed books in order to capture the attention of potential readers. There are times when publicists make questionable comparisons and there are times when they make reasonable ones. The Last Watch—the debut novel by J.S. Dewes and the 1st book in The Divide series—is described as “The Expanse meets Game of Thrones.” After reading this book, the comparison is both accurate and appropriate.
There are 2 protagonists in this novel. The first one is Cavalon Mercer, who was the heir to the Royal House of Mercer. After “disobeying” his grandfather, Augustus—who is a despot, Cavalon is sent to serve his punishment at the Divide, located at the edge of the universe. He is from a privileged background, so he is very out-of-place at the Divide where he is sent aboard the ship, the Argus—one of the ships stationed at the edge of the Divide. Cavalon learns very quickly he must keep his identity a secret, or risk the wrath of his family’s “enemies”—some of whom are on the same ship as himself. The second protagonist is Adequin Rake, a former captain in the military. She is in charge of the Argus. She is a war hero who was “sent” to the Divide by her commanding officer after the last war ended. Rake takes her job very seriously and has earned the respect of her crew. Her second-in-command is Jackin North, who helps Rake operate the Argus; Circitor Josslyn Lace is the chief mechanic; Griffith Bach is one of the crew members who “patrols” the Divide—and is Rake’s boyfriend; Circitor Amaeus Puck is another “soldier” who helps Cavalon settle in on the Argus; and, Mesa—a Savant—runs the tech research lab. This motley crew have lost their “status” within society and must work together to protect the universe from the unstable threat at its edge.
The plot focuses on the Divide and any “threats” which may or may not emerge from it. Several years ago, the Viator War ended with the humans and the Savants working together to exterminate the Viators, with some consequences. First, is the continuous attacks from the Drudgers—mutated and hybrid humanoids—throughout the Divide. Second, is the slow destabilization of the Divide. In fact, shortly after Cavalon’s arrival, the Divide becomes “unstable” and the survivors coming together to send word back home for help. Meanwhile, the surviving crew must defeat a fleet of Drudgers and decipher a codex found within their possession. What is it? What is it for? There are 2 subplots in this novel. The first subplot revolves on the Divide being a threat to the entire universe (mostly because there is A LOT that is NOT known about it), being close, or even inside of, it has an uncanny effect on time. All of those near the Divide have experienced seeing doppelgängers of themselves performing actions from the past or from the future. While there is no explanation for this phenomenon, the frequency of them seems to be in relation to the stability of the Divide. The second subplot focuses on both Cavalon and Rake; and, how and why they ended up at the Divide. Unlike their fellow comrades who are there either through volunteering or serving punishment, Cavalon and Rake appear to represent one or the other, but they are being secretive about the “actual reasons” they were sent to the Divide. What happened? These subplots are essential for the plot of this novel. Both the plot and the subplot go at an appropriate rate and can be followed easily.
The narrative is in 3rd person limited told in the present from the points-of-view and the streams-of-consciousness of both Cavalon Mercer and Adequin Rake. From Cavalon, readers learn about the Divide and the ships which are stationed there. From Rake, readers learn about the war and how the military operates. In addition, both Cavalon’s and Rake’s memories (presented in flashback) fill in some of the gaps of information revolving around the ongoings back at “civilization”: the good, the bad, and the ugly. It should be mentioned the narrative begins somewhat cliché of a space opera—with excellent dialogue—but the revelation around the halfway point perceives a change in the pace of the narrative, which makes it stand out. Both protagonists are reliable narrators. The narrative can be followed easily by the readers.
The style J.S. Dewes uses for The Last Watch does start off with a cliché setup: a group of ragtag individuals who are forced to work together in isolation until they put aside their differences in order to defeat a larger threat. However, as the story continues, readers realize quickly the clichés are a front each character presents to everyone else. For example—and without too many spoilers, Cavalon presents himself as a spoiled royal prince, but he has no problem using the education given to him through his privilege to help out the crew; and, Rake presents herself as a loyal soldier, until she confesses the reason why she was sent to the Divide. The author rounds out her characters this way, so they appear more realistic than traditional tropes. In addition, the threat of the Divide seems very real; and, it could be because astrophysics is involved (and, I’m NOT an expert in the subject at all!). As far as I know, theories about black holes should be consulted for the science mentioned in this book. The mood in this novel is vacancy. Everything at the Divide signifies a form of emptiness; and yet, when someone adds items, or individuals, to “an empty space,” they become more noticeable. The tone in this novel is revelation. The societies the characters came from believe sending criminals and troublemakers to the edge of the universe either will make the “problem go away” or will “hide the truth.” Unfortunately, problems cannot be erased by concealing them. Eventually, everything is revealed.
The appeal for The Last Watch have been positive. This book has received critical acclaim and has been labelled as “one of the Best SFF Books of 2021” on Amazon and on Goodreads. 74% of readers on Goodreads have given this book 4- and 5-star ratings. And yes, if you’ve read Shards of Earth and/or The Protectorate trilogy, then you should read this book. I listened to the audiobook edition of this book, which was narrated by both Andrew Eiden and Nicol Zanzarella as the protagonists. Both of them were convincing as both Cavalon and Rake, respectively. I should mention I agree with a few of the other reviewers that this book would be an excellent film adaptation, especially with the book’s dialogue. Fans of this book can move on to read the next book in this series, The Exiled Fleet, which is supposed to take place right after the tumultuous events in the first book.
The Last Watch is an entertaining space opera which will remind readers of how vast the universe is even at the edge of it. J.S. Dewes’ debut novel will amaze readers and sci-fi fans with the dialogue and the plot, which will make them question everything they believe they know about space and the universe. This really is “The Night’s Watch” in space.
My Rating: Enjoy It (4 out of 5).
I received an eARC of this book in exchange for an honest review.