Note: This post originally appeared on the Lucy Varna blog on 19 July 2015.
So. About this book. Let’s start with what it isn’t. It’s not erotica, not at all, though it’s classified that way. It’s also classified as paranormal. Nope. Science Fiction is good, but the length is more like Epic Fantasy, and in a lot of ways, that’s exactly what The Last Hour of Gann feels like. So imagine an Epic Fantasy-length Science Fiction novel with a really strong romance, and you’ll come close to pinning this book down.
The problem is, it’s one of those stories that isn’t simple to define in any way. Some may walk away from it thinking that it’s a book about faith, and it is. Not just religious faith, either, but about the faith we place (and often misplace, as is Amber’s case, over and over again) in ourselves and others. It’s there, an integral part of the story, but it’s not the focus. Some may believe that Smith was drawing comparisons between the environmental destruction humans have caused on Earth to that caused on Gann, and that’s true, too, but it’s also not the focus. Sure, it’s there. Of course it is, but it’s something you can think about (or not) and move on with the rest of the story.
And then there’s the romance, which was so well crafted and natural, like nearly everything else in The Last Hour of Gann, that you won’t even blink an eye when the human-alien sex happens. You just won’t, no matter where you stand on issues concerning sex. In fact, at that point, you’re rooting for Amber and Meoraq. You want them to find happiness with each other. You want them to win. But their romance isn’t the focus of the story either.
In fact, I’m not sure that there is a single focus in Gann. More like a web of intertwined focii, woven seamlessly together into a beautifully unfolding narrative, like a rose bud blooming out one petal at a time.
The world building in Gann is deep and intricately layered, but you never see it taking place (and so, some people miss it completely). Ditto with the character development. And in spite of its length (seriously, it took me eighteen to twenty hours to read it, and I’m not a slow reader), it’s a tightly written story. There’s nothing you can skip, and if you do skip even one paragraph, you’ll miss something important.
In many ways, it’s that layering, the sense of reality Smith brings to Gann on nearly every level, that’s also problematic. Amber is a difficult character with absolutely no sense of how to read, interact with, or understand other humans. She eventually finds that understanding with Meoraq (and it’s truly wonderful to watch it develop), but she never finds it with the other humans, including her own sister, Nicci. Remember that misplaced faith? Yes, it shows up so well in the dynamic between these two women.
Amber is also thrown into situations, sometimes through no fault of her own, that are dangerous, damaging, and not comfortable to read. There are rape scenes. They are also not a focal point, but they are necessary to the story. Many readers will inevitably find fault with Smith’s quasi-sympathetic portrayal of one rapist, the unthinking acceptance of forced sex in “lizard” culture, and the violence of sex when Meoraq is under the influence of Sheul’s fires.
I did not, probably not a surprising revelation to readers of the Daughters of the People Series. Violence, regardless of its origins, is a daily fact of life, a reality Smith refuses to downplay. Good for her.
Meoraq has his flaws, but I can honestly say he’s one of the best romantic heroes I’ve ever read. As one reviewer put it (and I apologize, but I can’t remember which one), he’s a religious zealot, but he’s a thoughtful one. That completely changes the way his spirituality is folded into the narrative and accepted (or not) by the reader. He’s also incredibly funny in a subtle way most reviewers seem to overlook. I can’t bring a specific example to mind (this is a loooong book), but the humor is there, if you leave yourself open to it.
While Meoraq’s physiology is non-human, his inner world is very human. The differences between how he and Amber think are related more to their being from different cultures than from different worlds or species.
That bothered me a little, not in the way you might think. Too often, “diversity” advocates focus on outer appearances at the expense of inner distinctiveness. I’ve discussed this before, but I think it needs to be said again: Encouraging a variety of internal characteristics (the way we think and believe, the way we approach the world and the way we react to it) creates a more diverse culture than encouraging a variety of external characteristics (e.g. skin color), particularly when “group-think” and “consensus” (i.e. thought conformity) are touted over true individuality, which can only develop in the mind.
That’s not a criticism of Gann at all. What bothers me is that some push the “otherness” of this story when, in fact, the otherness is…not. On the outside, yes, of course. Meoraq is a lizard-like, bipedal being. But inside? The other is primarily cultural, and a very human-like culture at that. Still, there’s this tug of war going on between the two cultures, human and alien, that’s fascinating to read and provides quite a bit of fodder for the conflicts in Amber and Meoraq’s interactions and elsewhere.
My one humongous gripe with The Last Hour of Gann is that it’s *gasp* not available in print. Until it is, I’m putting it on my virtual keeper shelf and recommending it as a very well-told (SciFi Romance?) story.
It was her last chance
Amber Bierce had nothing left except her sister and two tickets on Earth’s first colony-ship. She entered her Sleeper with a five-year contract and the promise of a better life, but awakened in wreckage on an unknown world. For the survivors, there is no rescue, no way home and no hope until they are found by Meoraq—a holy warrior more deadly than any hungering beast on this hostile new world…but whose eyes show a different sort of hunger when he looks at her.
It was his last year of freedom
Uyane Meoraq is a Sword of Sheul, God’s own instrument of judgment, victor of hundreds of trials, with a conqueror’s rights over all men. Or at least he was until his father’s death. Now, without divine intervention, he will be forced to assume stewardship over House Uyane and lose the life he has always known. At the legendary temple of Xi’Matezh, Meoraq hopes to find the deliverance he seeks, but the humans he encounters on his pilgrimage may prove too great a test even for him…especially the one called Amber, behind whose monstrous appearance burns a woman’s heart unlike any he has ever known.
(Cover and blurb from GoodReads.)