Word of mouth is a wonderful thing, especially when it comes to books. If I’d simply read the blurb for R Lee Smith’s The Last Hour Of Gann, I’d never have bought it in a million years, but lately it’s seemed that whenever I spend time browsing for reading suggestions, I trip over it. Clearly the universe has been trying to tell me I should forget that the book is a dark sci-fi epic categorised as erotica (no, no, no, no, thanks) and just read it already. So I did, and now, holy moly, it’s my turn to spread the word.
There’s a fascinating piece of research by Emory University that says reading a novel triggers positive change in the brain, at least for a few days. I read The Last Hour Of Gann a couple of weeks ago, and The Girls are still chewing it over, from both a story and a craft perspective.
Even avoiding spoilers there’s so much to say about this book, it’s hard to know where to start. It’s almost impossible to pin down in terms of genre. It’s sci-fi, in that the story takes place on a distant planet, and the hero is an alien. It’s dark and violent, and there is murder, slavery, and non-consensual sex. It’s also a totally believable, uplifting romance, somehow almost courtly. It’s infused with spirituality but devoid of theme-mongering.
Here’s R Lee Smith’s take on it in an interview at Dear Author (beware spoilers if you follow the link): “I initially thought I was writing horror with a strong sci-fi or fantasy slant. My first e-publisher thought I was writing erotica (and writing it badly). And my readers apparently think I write romances.”
Michaeline talked yesterday about likeable characters. I don’t think you could call either the heroine or the hero of The Last Hour of Gann likeable, but they are fascinating, memorable, even admirable, and the writer made me care about them, individually and together. They both got an amazing character arc and I loved the ending. After nearly a thousand pages I had no idea what was going to happen, and I was afraid I was heading for the wall-banger of all time, but the book reached a satisfying conclusion that was entirely in keeping with the story promise.
The heroine, Amber, is pushy, overweight, unattractive, foul-mouthed and disliked. She’s the least popular, smartest and most proactive of a small group of humans who survive a space-ship crash on an unknown planet. She’ll to do whatever it takes to keep herself and the group (especially her sister) alive, but she doesn’t waste time trying to win friends and influence people, which causes her trouble a-plenty.
The hero, Meoraq, is a holy bad-ass warrior lizard who travels from city to city, judging disputes and meting out justice through mortal combat. He sees the fires in the sky from the crash and interprets them as a divine signal. Taking the humans with him, he heads off on a pilgrimage to a temple where he believes he will hear the voice of Sheul (God). I loved Meoraq. He’s a good, flawed guy (lizard), who tries to live by his faith and who is perpetually tested by the humans, who push all his buttons.
When we were discussing Dido Belle’s story a few weeks ago, Michaeline said in the comments that inter-species romance is regular fare in the sci-fi community. I don’t have that benchmark for comparison, but I liked the fact that the author didn’t fudge the physical differences between Amber and Meoraq. They do not find one another physically attractive. He’s a proper lizardly lizard, with scales that change color when he’s emotional, sharp spikes, and a propensity to behave violently. She’s pale and soft-skinned, and her tough-chick attitude is the antithesis of the ideal lizard woman. Eventually none of it matters.
I didn’t care much about the other humans, but I don’t think I was supposed to. Their group dynamics were unpleasant but credible (read any history book) and they were necessary to Amber and Meoraq’s story, so ‘nuff said, really.
The world-building is amazing.
The book is long. L-o-n-g. Since it’s in e-book format and there was no page count, I didn’t immediately twig that it’s more than three times the length of a standard full-length novel. Which was a problem, because I hadn’t planned to spend the best part of three days reading it non-stop, and that’s what happened.
I don’t think either Amber or Meoraq owns the book. I’d say it’s more like Amber’s Book and Meoraq’s Book, twisted together to make Their Book. I wouldn’t try to do that, but it works.
The pacing is leisurely. R Lee Smith didn’t bother to start where the action starts. It’s like there are two prologues – Amber’s dire situation on earth and her choice of the space-ship as her least worst option, Meoraq’s life as an itinerant sword of justice. There are whole chunks of side-story that in another book would have made me give up. I have to confess I skipped a bit, but I never considered quitting.
I could go on, but you get the idea. Just read it already, and then come back and let me know what you made of it.
And do you have other amazing world-building epics of any genre to recommend? I thought of Dune, Clan Of The Cave Bear, Shogun, maybe Gone With The Wind, but I’m sure there are loads of others. All suggestions most gratefully received.