The Heretic is the latest in the long-running General series by David Drake and one of several writers. (The original series was co-written with S.M. Stirling. The first book in the latter series was co-written with Stirling, but Drake has switched co-writers since them.) I do not recommend the original series unless you are completely acclimated to Stirling’s early work, which was heavy on the “I have to show you how grotty and violent the world is with graphic eroticized sexual violence.”)
The basic synopsis of the series runs something like this: Once upon a time there was a vast galactic civilization that collapsed, and that collapse slid downward into utter-yet-strangely-copacetic-with-World-History barbarism. And advanced computer AI named “Center” on one barbaric planet decided that it would find a way to restore civilization by using a military leader named Raj Whitehall to go to war and create the ideal conditions to restore civilization. Our Hero Raj’s society was based of the Eastern Roman/Byzantine Empire and Raj himself was based off of a general named Belisarius. Once he Restored Civilization he allowed his personality to be copied and he and Center are spamming the galaxy looking for neo-barb planets to uplift by latching on to some worthy warrior dude.
(Special note: Drake has worked this particular theme of “entity that may or may not be an AI rides mental shotgun inside he skull of some dude at least three times so far. The first was The General series, the next was a fantasy series called Lord of the Isles, and the other one was the Belisarius series co-written with Eric Flint. I prefer the latter two series over The General.)
This time around, Raj and Center end up on a planet which has a surviving AI named “Zentrum” that keeps its human population at a very low level of technology with only few exceptions. The basic society is vaguely Ancient Egyptian and the kid chosen to become Raj and Center’s arms and legs is a boy named Abel Dashian. Since Zentrum is using religion to control its population, Dashian nearly brains himself with a rock the first time Raj and Center contact him because he thinks Raj and Center are demons. This is not the beginning of a beautiful relationship, though eventually they are able to get Abel more or less on board with the entire “restore civilization” gig.
My reaction to this book was somewhat ambivalent. The book is readable but I wasn’t able maintain an interest in any of the characters. Another problem is that I don’t feel that this book stands on its own very well, which is something of a problem in an episodic series where the theme is the same but the setting changes.