November 11, 2017

James Wymore: "The Last Key" (ARC Review)

Title: The Last Key [on Amazon | on Goodreads]
Series: The Actuator (book 4 of 4)
Author: James Wymore [Site | Goodreads]
Genres: Sci-Fi, Fantasy
Year: 2017
Age: It's marketed as an adult book, but it can be read by teens, though a bit heavy on horror/gore
Stars: 3.5/5
Pros: Creative premise. Breathless adventure, though there's a time for reflection as well. Poignant ending. Female characters finally get more screen time and weight.
Cons: As with the rest of the series, the premise is somehow better than the execution - there's more telling than showing, and the storyline is a bit too hectic sometimes. Some editing issues (among them, a character changing name midbook*).
(*Edit: after posting my review, I was told the issue would be fixed prior to pub date).
Will appeal to: Alternate realities enthusiasts. RPG fans. Readers who get bored easily.

Blurb: The Actuator, a machine capable of literally changing reality, was created to make a utopian paradise. Before it happened, a saboteur used it to transform the world into patches of every kind of genre fiction, scattering the keys necessary to put it back across the globe. Everyone alive found their lives radically altered, some living in fantasy realms with real magic and others in incomprehensible horrors. Thrown into chaos, people struggled against aliens, pirates, orcs, and vampires. Many died. Only a handful of people on the planet, called Machine Monks, even knew why it happened or how. Now they have to put it all back before humanity is destroyed. Even if they could get all the keys, the small group opposing the tyrant don’t know what to do when they get to the final one - a key they’ve never seen before. If they don’t find the answers fast, the world will be lost. (Goodreads excerpt)

Review: First off...DISCLAIMER: I am a semi-regular reviewer of Curiosity Quills titles (like this one), but if you look back at my ratings, this never prevented me from being unbiased. And all the books I received from them were generously sent with no strings attached.


It's kind of funny, you know. I went into this last installment expecting it to follow the same pattern of the previous ones, and in a way it did - lots of jumping around the world in a teleporter, epic fights, interior moral dilemmas. But I was pleasantly surprised by a few tweaks that made this book stand out - and not only because duh, it gives us closure. Here are the things I didn't expect:
  • The Actuator finally becomes its own character, what with everyone wondering if it might have turned into something more than a supercomputer that feeds on thoughts and ideas, and have developed a conscience of sorts - and if that's the case, is its conscience good or bad? does it have plans for the world? can it be reasoned with? and, last but not least...does it have a gender? Of course, the living computer is far from being a new concept, but Wymore puts a spin on it. I should probably have seen it coming...but I didn't.
  • Time travel is introduced! Though it has a few limits and can't ultimately save the day, but it would have been a cop out if it did, so I'm happy about that.
  • The female Machine Monks get more space and finally kick ass πŸ˜€. [...]


There are more things that this series finale tackles - though they were already present in the previous installments, but they get more weight now. Like the "survival of the fittest" twisted ideal - which is the reason why the villain turned the world upside down in the first place. But also the apparently wholesome ideal that originally prompted a couple of dreamers to build the Actuator, since they believed that, by giving people Utopia, every person would get the chance to become the better version of themselves. Also, this final installment - while not putting romance to the forefront - spends a little more time with the couples born after the global Actuation (and the one whose seed was already blossoming when the world was transformed), posing a couple of interesting questions: is the Actuator (and the rules it imposed on the different realms)  responsible for the new pairings? and are they meant to survive if the machine gets shut off?


As I pointed out in the Cons, there are a few details in TLK I wasn't so keen on. I understand that "showing" as opposed to "telling" is not that easy in a third-person narrative, but it can be done - while this book (and the whole series, to tell the truth) leans a bit on the "telling" side. I spotted a few small editing issues, and I probably would have condoned a simple name misspelling (Lennie/Lenny), but the thing that rubbed me the wrong way was that a character - whose name had been "Agatha" since Book 1 - suddenly morphed into an "Agnes" midway through this latest installment. Also, a handful of characters from the two Actuator anthologies are back for the ultimate showdown, but in the hand of a different author, they lose part of their charm (Lennie, Γœbergirl). And I wasn't too keen on a male character's attitude towards his woman...I get it, the gang has already saved her twice, and he's afraid of losing her for good, but he questions her commitment to the fight and her will to be involved in it to the point of wondering if she's worth his love. BIG NO-NO, MISTER.
These are the reasons why I didn't round up my rating to 4 stars - but as far as the story goes, I enjoyed this last installment more than the previous ones. Still recommended if you like action, alternate realities clashing with one another and a dose of ethical musings πŸ˜ƒ.

For my "Fractured Earth" review (first installment in the series) click here.
For my "Borderlands Anthology" review (installment 1.5 in the series) click here
For my "Return of the Saboteur" review (second installment in the series) click here.
For my "Chaos Chronicles" review (third installment in the series) click here. 
For more Adult books click here.


  1. Thanks for this great review. I am embarrassed about the name mistakes. The publisher sent you an ARC (advanced reader copy), so those names will be fixed in the final version. Thanks again!

    1. Thank you for appreciating my view, even if it was peppered with slight criticism...not all authors would do that. As for the names, I was aware that the book was an ARC, but since I received it so close to pub date, I thought it only lacked some small finishing touches. Good luck with this one!

    2. It actually releases tomorrow (11-17-2017). If you want to tell your readers, we will give book #1 away FREE and the rest of the series on sale cheap (99 cents - $1.99). Here's the link to the first one:

    3. You've just done that via this comment - and I'll spread the news on Twitter! πŸ™‚ Also, I'm adding the Amazon link for The Last Key to my review as soon as the book has a page.

  2. Calm down Roberta. Calm. Down.

    You're reviewing so many books! lol

    I don't think this is the series for me but I've really enjoyed your reviews for it. The whole world and premise sound cool

    For What It's Worth

    1. I'll tell you a secret...I had myself cloned 😜.

      Glad I entertained you all the same LOL. This is a great series if you like action and/or alternate realities, but admittedly, it wouldn't be the best choice for a romance lover.


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