This week I decided to review Tour of the Merrimack: The Twice and Future Caesar by R. M. Meluch.
The story begins with an excerpt from thee end of The Myriad, the first book in the series, showing the event that altered history, creating the timeline that the books between The Myriad and this book take place in. The story then moves forward five years. Romulus, former Caesar of the reformed Roman Empire, was incapacitated by a nano-weapon and being held captive by his successor Caesar Numa. But his dedicated followers the Romuli, rescue him.
In response, Numa recruits the Ninth Circle, a band of pirates everyone but Numa and themselves believe to be dead, to hunt down and kill Romulus. Early in the book, the Circle raids a Romuli asteroid base while, nearby, the USS Merrimack, which is also hunting for Romulus, fends off attacks from a renegade Roman vessel. The Circle eventually discover that Romulus has been taken from the base, but they also find that TR Steele, the missing commander of Merrimack's marines is being held on the base. As they flee, Nox, also known as John Knox Farragut, Jr., the estranged younger brother of Merrimack's former captain, is infected with nanites. The circle lacks the means to remove them but the Merrimack can, so they arrange for Nox to be captured then launch a rescue but the techniques they use confirm they have high level Roman help.
Romulus is revived as a patterner, a type of cybernetically-enhanced human with upgraded data analysis abilities that are the most dangerous agents in twenty-fifth century Rome's arsenal. At first, Romulus works to rally his forces to overthrow Numa, but then he discovers that his beloved sister Claudia is dead. He begins plotting to go back in time to prevent her death, and halt the defeats and humiliations Rome suffered in recent years, turning the Circle into loyal agents by convincing them that Numa was behind the incident that led to their disgrace and set them on the road to piracy.
Next he strikes against Jose Maria, who delivered the nano-virus that disabled him, by deploying a nano-weapon that destroy Jose's homeworld of Terra Rica. Rear Admiral John Alexander Farragut figures out Romulus' plan and takes Merrimack on a desperate race to prevent it but fails. Romulus prevents the alteration of history that created the timeline he came from but discovers that he has changed events that took place long before his arrival in the new timeline. With the alien Hive on a rampage and much of Rome's forces destroyed, Romulus hopes to use his knowledge of how to destroy and control the Hive to convince the Roman senate to appoint him Caesar in place of his disgraced father, but they appoint Numa instead. Romulus, having executed his younger self, takes his sister and sets up a government in exile then destroys one Hive, thus awakening its unborn children who are in easy striking range of Earth. And as Merrimack leads a furious battle to repel the Hive assault on humanity's homeworld, Romulus readies his soldiers for a strike at the heart of the United States.
I give this book 5.5 out of 10. First I think resetting the story to The Myriad's timeline and thus wiping away most of more than five books worth of character development was an utterly horrible idea. I can think of several ways to raise a new threat in the post-Myriad's timeline, so I see absolutely no need for the timeline shift. Second, there was a point where I saw a glimmer of hope for an interesting plot hook for a sequel only to have it shut down. Third, I feel that the protagonists didn't play enough of a role in the climax. Finally, the combat, which has never really been the strong point of the series, is worse than usual in my opinion. While part of me hopes a sequel will dig the series out of the pit the author has sent it into, it's a faint hope.