(This is my third, and possibly final depending on how things go tomorrow, part of my Memorial Day series of posts where I review SF/F books that I can find a way to justify as being related to the US Military. This one has both a Navy Seal and a Delta Force operator in it, so close enough.)
So how about a Navy Seal that is detached from service in the US to fight for the Catholic Pope in World War III and transported back in time to Ancient Rome? Does that sound like fun? It does it me. Actually, it was fun too. If you're wondering, I'm referring to Edward Crichton's The Last Roman, part one of the Praetorian Series. I really enjoyed this one and I'm betting you all would too.
Our hero is Lieutenant Commander Jacob Hunter, Navy Seal, Historian, Classicist, Catholic and SF geek. I liked this guy. He holds the series together and is believably written. I mention that specifically because I've just listed a group of seemingly incompatible traits, but somehow Crichton pulls it off. Hunter is a complicated guy with an extensive backstory and a varied personality. He manages to be a stone cold killer when he needs to be but he has a soft side. He's even more clueless with women than I am. His knowledge of Ancient Roman history is amazing. (More on that in a minute.)
Part of the appeal to this book, at least for me, is that Crichton manages to convey the type of camaraderie found among small groups of men the world over. There is a bit of a hierarchy but the guys (and one girl) are quick with a wisecrack and are not always nice about things. They know how to take things, however, and God help the man who comes from outside their circle to insult one of their own. Especially if it's their only female. Then again, it's not like she needs all that much protecting. She's a sniper with some pretty serious hand-to-hand training and a bit of an attitude, yet she is accepted once she proves herself.
Crichton found a way to avoid every historians pet peeve with Historical Fiction or Alternate History. He wrote his story in a period that was remote enough in history that most of what was known has been lost and included a character, Hunter, that could point out the inconsistencies. Hunter's moments of "Oops, guess the historians got that one wrong," are both informative and amusing. They're also used to keep the story moving and, in one case, warn our heroes that not all is well. This was really well done on Crichton's part.
Crichton starts the book with combat in the near future and ends it with combat in thirty-eight AD. He's obviously done some studying because he manages to pull both off believably. Granted, his ancient battles take place with modern warriors and firearms intermixed but he makes it believable. In a related note, the reaction of the Ancient Romans, to include Emperor Caligula, are pretty epic but also about what you'd expect from people who have never heard of guns and are suddenly exposed to modern firearms. That brings up something else that Crichton does well.
Throughout the story, Hunter agonizes over the role of himself and his comrades. He has done some SF time travel geeking in his time and is worried about what he and his friends will do to the timeline. He eventually concludes that they have established an alternate timeline, but it's still fun to see him engaging in a debate that I myself have taken part in, even if the person he's debating is himself.
Crichton knows his hardware too. His bio says nothing about having served in the military so I'm assuming that it's mainly research but he knows his stuff. He's not exactly a Larry Correia level gun-geek but Crichton displays much more understanding of firearms than most.
A word of warning here: Although I really did enjoy this book, it occurs to me that I may have enjoyed it this much because Hunter is a lot like me. I mean, I'm not a super athletic Navy Seal but the other stuff. I have a degree in History, as does he. I have done some studying of the Ancient World, although none formally. I went about halfway through the confirmation process in the Catholic Church before I dropped out due to a sudden change in life circumstances and I fully intend to go back. I'm not saying that people from outside those groups can't understand the story, but I just thought I'd mention all of that in the interest of full disclosure.
This is the part where I'm supposed to rip Crichton a new one for goofing with the timeline but I already covered that. At times it seems like the team is too well rounded but then that's exactly the type of team that any military organization would try to build so that makes sense. The time travel McGuffin is a bit wonky and the explanation for why it works is kind of weird but it kind of needs to be. All in all, my complaints about this novel are minor and I'm looking forward to reading the sequel.
Bottom Line: 4.5 out of 5 Gladii
The Last Roman
Self Published, 2012
As of this writing, this book was available free at the following link: