Saturday, February 22, 2014

The Last Roman - Edward Crichton

    2013; 388 pages.  Book #1 of the series “The Praetorian”.  New Author? : Yes.  Genre : Time Travel; Military Fiction.  Overall Rating : 5½*/10.

    Talk about wrong turns.  One moment, Jacob Hunter was driving the getaway truck for his black-ops team, fleeing a bunch of crazed terrorists in 2021 Syria.  The next moment, the truck was upside down, and in a ditch.

    But that was just an unplanned turn of events.  The wrong turn occurred shortly afterward, while in a (not so) safe house, where the terrorists had the team surrounded.  One slip, and our plucky heroes (and heroine) find themselves not in Syria, but in Rome.  And not present-day Rome, but 37 AD, full of togas, legionnaires, and imperial intrigue.

    Maybe they should’ve taken a left at Albuquerque.

What’s To Like...
    The last ¾ of The Last Roman is a Time Travel adventure, which is probably why most readers will pick up the book.  The historical setting is believable, although it has a “Wikipedia-ish” feel to it.  But there are no major gaffes – candles, underwear, etc., so it is sufficient for the storyline.

    There is a natural language barrier immediately after the Time Jump.  The Romans obviously don’t speak English, and only one of the spec-ops force is even halfway conversant in Latin (from his priesthood training).  Our main protagonist, Hunter, is somewhat of a chauvinistic butthead to begin with, but it’s fun to watch him mature (at least somewhat) as the storyline progresses.

    Best of all, a lot of history gets changed due to our Chrono-Interlopers and their modern-day weaponry.  It will be interesting to see how this impacts the subsequent books in the series.

    The pace is quick, and there’s a kind of urban noir wit woven into the dialogue; that’s kewl.  You'll meet Hunter's best bud, Johnny Santino, a smart-mouthed rascal, and if you haven’t warmed to his charm by the end of the book, something’s wrong.  OTOH, I still have no idea what the title, “The Last Roman”, refers to.

    Alas, there are a lot of WTF’s too.  Our spec-ops peeps seem to have  unlimited ammunition (including claymore mines, grenades, C-4), unlimited medicinal supplies, and radios that evidently last forever.  To boot, taking a gladius sword-thrust right through the chest apparently is not necessarily fatal.  Wow.

    Then there’s the Roman reaction to these strange foreigners and their kick-butt gadgets.  If I were the Head Bad Guy in the climactic battle, I’d reserve a whole legion of my numerically superior forces (bad guys always have numerically superior forces) for the sole purpose of hunting down these killing superstars and eliminating them.  Even if I were the Head Good Guy, I’d view this team as a threat, poison them, and assign my best and brightest legionnaire dudes to figure out how their wonderful weapons work.

    Roman versus Roman.
    It had happened more times than one would think.  After the fall of the Julio-Claudian family, in about thirty or so years from now, very few emperors would elevate to the position of Caesar without the use of their legions.  It was fascinating how willing Romans were to fight each other, their sense of honor and duty leaving little room for moral sensibilities or even peaceful negotiations.  They were barbaric and warmongering, no matter how many roads, aqueducts, poets, laws, and countless other wonders of the world they created.
    I loved these guys; their contradictions being so overwhelmingly ironic.  (loc. 4087)

    Helen calmly walked over, knelt beside me, and gently inspected my arm.  Shaking her head, she pulled out yet another bandage, pressed it against my arm and wrapped the wound.
    “You really need to stop getting hurt,” she told me matter of factly.
    “I know, I just. . .”
    “You have a shield for a reason.”
    “Yeah, but. . .”
    “They help stop swords.”
    “But. . .”
    “No excuses,” she said, tightening the bandage to punctuate her order.  (loc. 6748)

Kindle Details...
    You can download The Last Roman for free right now at Amazon.  The next two books of this series are available for $2.99 apiece.  The author apparently has also started a new series, with the first book, Starfarer: Rendezvous with Destiny available for $3.99 at Amazon.

“Togas?” he asked, peering at the men.  “So where’s the keg?”  (loc. 2125)
    For a Time Travel book, this is a decent first effort.  I might’ve hoped for a bit more intrigue from the Romans, and perhaps some internal tension among the black-ops team, with maybe one or two of them pushing up daisies by the last page.  But these are quibbles.

    What really sinks the book is the first 27%, which has zero time-travel, and 100% Tom Clancy-ish minutiae of every gun and explosive device our well-stocked unit is packing.  Edward Crichton also feels compelled to weave his rightwing scree into the near-future timeline.  The nasty Muslims in Iran nuke Israel.  The nasty Russkies help them.  And  the nasty Mexican drug lords and gangsters invade the US.

    But wait, it gets even more far-fetched.  There’s an assassination attempt on the Pope, which turns him into a right-wing militant too.  The black-ops unit is assembled to carry out his covert missions.  Take that, you silly Swiss guards.  Finally, Crichton makes a point to mention racial jokes, and to explain that they’re okay cuz, you know, everybody knows you’re just kidding when you tell them, and there’s no bigotry involved.

    Well, it’s Crichton’s timeline, and he can do with it what he wants.  But it has absolutely nothing to do with the rest of the plotline, and frankly, a lot of readers are going to stop reading The Last Roman long before they get to 28% because of this dichotomy in the storyline.

     5½ Stars.  Add 2 stars if you skipped directly to 27% and started your reading there.

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