Review: The Last Praetorian

The Last Praetorian - Mike SmithAs of late I’ve been eager to dip in more and more to indie fiction via the Kindle store. It’s a great way to step out of my comfort zone of a handful of safe-bet pro writers and discover some up and coming talent.

A few weeks ago I noticed that The Last Praetorian had been sitting on my wishlist and was offered for free. The premise – a space opera set in a classical-themed empire – appealed to me quite a bit and, sold at the price, I eagerly downloaded.

However, I have yet to finish The Last Praetorian but do feel I have read enough (about a third) to be able to form a cogent opinion. There is a decent plot in there ready and waiting to be unearthed but finds itself surrounded by unfortunately stodgy and unpolished writing.

It would seem that The Last Praetorian really needs another six months in editing. I found I was having to mentally edit the book in my mind as I was reading, which did nothing to aid immersion; in fact, it was quite a detraction from the overall experience, that bar this I was quite enjoying. There’s two intriguing and competent plotlines (one set at the fall of the Empire, the other taking place five years later) and an intrigue to see how they are linked and the resolution of the mystery between the quite rapid events of the first part of the book.

However, I found the abundance of lone sentence fragments, incorrect line breaks and quite wooden dialog quite taxing on my immersion and it really put a brake on my enjoyment. It was becoming a chore to self-edit as I was going along.

In terms of plot and character, there’s promise and the seeds of greatness exist but there’s work to be done. The main characters, Radec; our hero, the Empress; to whom Radec is both attracted and duty bound to protect and his cohort of associates Five Years Later are all likeable and there’s an attempt to distinguish them all from each other.

However, the protagonist Radec does seem to suffer from Superhero Syndrome in that he is stoic in duty and works well to conceal his “feelings” while at the same time competing for the Best In Universe prize in sword-fighting, space piloting and surrogate fatherhood of his ward. This unlikely mishmash of seemingly-unconnected skills does seem to paint Radec as the unbeatable super-human demigod; I’m sure this wasn’t the writer’s intention but Radec’s seeming-superlative skills in everything that the plot needs him to be good at goes toward that.

The Empress, Sofia, appears after a bit of reading to be a bit of a damsel with a crush on her defender; whether this is developed more remains to be seen. As an Emperor’s daughter she’s naturally flawlessly beautiful and strictly off-limits but, quelle surprise, there’s a forbidden spark between her and Radec.

The plot itself may be a little safe and pedestrian, in that it’s not trying to reinvent the wheel in terms of pushing boundaries within sci-fi (all the ships have El Generico “FTL drives”) but that’s not necessarily a bad thing. I’m partial to more “pulpy” space opera from time to time and can find a “conventional” book that isn’t letting the story down to “try something new” rather refreshing. There are a few science goofs that do stick out – misinterpreting inertia in space, for one – that do go toward the breaking of the immersion that is so crucial to enjoy a book like this.

I’m not saying the premise of The Last Praetorian is bad; rather, it’s a nugget that just needs a good cleaning off. There’s potential for a pretty enjoyable, if a little formulaic sci-fi drama but at the moment it’s ticking a load of boxes and little else. The writer, Mike Smith, is clearly very passionate about his genre and his story, but the execution is a little lacking in finesse. At the moment, it “feels” as if I’m reading a first draft. I’m certain that once it’s been looked at with critical eyes and given the tender loving care that is deserving of a structural edit The Last Praetorian would be a thoroughly enjoying read, but I’m afraid I’ve read enough for now.

I really look forward to seeing what Mike Smith can do with his book in the future and picking up the story. His passion is really great and I’m not doubting his ability to come up with a nice story. He just needs to polish his craft further so he can do his story the justice it deserves.

Score: Book 2*; Premise 4*

Visit The Last Praetorian online!

It probably doesn’t help that I went into The Last Praetorian after finishing Iain M. Banks’ The Player of Games, which was a masterpiece.

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