“The Sleeper Project,” by James Pratt, is founded on an intriguing premise but falls painfully short on execution. The first half of the novel is almost entirely unnecessary, the pace feels haphazard, character behaviors unrealistic, and through much of the book emphasis seems to be focused on the wrong details. Mediocre punctuation and grammar top off the shortfalls of what could have been a delightful read.
The story described in the synopsis of “The Sleeper Project,” is entirely contained in the second of the book’s two parts. Although part one starts out well in catching the reader’s interest, it is basically a drawn-out prologue. It often feels as if a military historian is narrating a film being played on fast forward. The language is utilitarian, and imagery limited as Pratt rushes through defining events of the young Australian S.A.S. officer, Rick Strickland. Simultaneously, Pratt belabors details of equipment, and full names and nationalities of characters who make no further appearance in the narrative. Since relevant details from part one are generally revisited as needed in part two, I suggest a reader might skip directly to the latter.
Once into the second part the reading experience improves, though some shortfalls, like unrealistic character behavior, persist. I may be biased compared to most readers because I know a few real special forces officers. That said, the soldiers described in Pratt’s novel would make any self-respecting operator cringe with how freely they share classified information, legal names and ranks with strangers! Also, Strickland lets romantic encounters interfere with his focus while on mission. This character would never have risen through the ranks of any special forces regiment, much less get called out of retirement to save the day.
The decades the book takes place over necessitates large time gaps. Some authors can pull this off and keep the reader immersed through the jumps; Pratt did not. Many opportunities to expand on more visceral details and draw the reader into a scene are sacrificed in favor of detailed listings of equipment, or superficial descriptions of events. The uneven pace is made more unsettling by poor grammar, particularly inadequate use of quotation marks. The reader must pay close attention to context to follow who is speaking and when.
The saving grace of all these pitfalls is the plot, which could easily have been developed into two or more riveting works. There are interesting character dynamics, realistic complexities with regards to international cooperation, and enough depth to keep a fan of this type of novel interested. I finished, “The Sleeper Project,” disappointed, but ultimately entertained. If you are at all familiar with the realities of special force personnel or find good writing structure essential to enjoying a read (like I do) then I suggest giving this book a wide berth. However, if you are not similarly biased and simply enjoy military themed action novels, you might find James Pratt’s work worth a read.
Amanda King – September 26, 2019
Originally published on Reedsy Discovery
E-book provided by Reedsy Discovery for review purposes.