Jilly: Alpha Lizard + Tough Broad = Must Read

Alpha LizardWord 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.

The Last Hour Of Gann currently has 56 reviews on Amazon.com – 46 are five stars and a further seven award it four – and 4.4 stars from 382 ratings on Goodreads.com.

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.

10 thoughts on “Jilly: Alpha Lizard + Tough Broad = Must Read

    • I think there are some aspects that you’ll find especially interesting, Jeanne. I hope so, anyway. R Lee Smith’s interview at Dear Author would be worth a read afterwards, too. Look forward to finding out what you make of it!

  1. Okay, when you began describing it, I thought, ugh, sci-fi, not my cup of tea, but your review (and recommendation) peaked my interest. I’m heading to Amazon now to download.

    • Oh, good, Kat, hope you enjoy it. When you’ve read it, I’d love to know your favorite moment out of the entire story. I can pinpoint mine and I wonder if yours might be the same.

  2. When I read the inter species romance part, I thought hmm… Michaeline is right about it not being uncommon in sci- fi, but when I’ve read books with it I haven’t been able to suspend my disbelief. That this is so far outside your typical reading fare yet that aspect worked for you has convinced me to try it. Given its size, I think it will be on my summer TBR pile, but I am looking forward to it!

    I just have to say, the 8LW ladies and commenters are my new go-to source for reading recommendations :-).

    • I know, this is way off piste for me, Nancy! Hope you find it worth the commitment, it’s not a quick read and I know your time is at a huge premium :-)

      I do agree with you about 8LW reading recommendations. I’ve been spending a small fortune at Amazon lately!

  3. Apart from the romance, the book sounds like a list of things I would shy away from in a book (violence, aliens, lizard as the hero!) – I am so intrigued that I have already pressed ‘Buy’ on Amazon. Can’t wait to read it, Jilly – I love to come across other total bookworms!

    • I know! When I saw it on Amazon described as a red-hot erotic sci-fi romance starring a lizard I nearly lost my nerve and chickened out. I don’t like horror stories, darkness or violence, I rarely read sci-fi, and I really, really wasn’t sure about Meoraq. Even after I read it I mulled it over for a week before I decided to post about it, but in the end it just had to be done. I really hope you enjoy it :-)

  4. (-: Well, you sold me. It sounds like a mess and a half, but if it kept your interest all the way through the end, it’s worth a read to me. Also, sounds like a fascinating reason to go e-book instead of trad publisher because 1) vague genre and we don’t want to confuse the marketing department, and 2) length.

    Did the author happen to say anything about editing — did she hire someone to go over it before she published, or does she have natural taste and skilz in that department?

    (-: I am not so sure of a lizard/human combo, either, but it does sound like a good reason to be courtly, and of course, reinforces a great meme in English-language literature about not judging a book by its cover.

    Pratchett does a lot of interspecies romance, but not necessarily erotica. My favorite is Sgt. Carrot (adopted dwarf) and Corporal (Sgt?) Angua Von Uberwald (werewolf). There’s a lot of interspecies that plays with the cultural aspects, and doesn’t go anywhere near bestiality.

    Although, the flirtation with bestiality also highlights that we fall in love with a fellow soul, not with the package that soul is in. In non-SF and Fantasy genres, that can be shown with an ugly hero, or a main character who has been scarred or handicapped in some way. I really like this meme. Even “ugliness” can become beautiful in the eye of the beloved.

    (-: And what do lizards know about human beauty, anyway? Or vice versa. It gives the ugly human (or lizard) a fresh start with someone who doesn’t know how to judge the package anyway, so goes straight to the actions that define character.

    Sorry so long. But I hope you’ll do a follow-up on this book in a month or two — I’ve downloaded it, and will try to get to it before the end of March. Sounds fascinating!

    • Oh, my. Just lost three days of my life (-:. Totally worth it from a craft perspective because I do think Amber is an extremely likable character. And she manages to do this without whining. She just has fallen in with exactly one person who can really appreciate her for herself. If she had sought out better friends, she might have never left Earth.

      I like this book a lot. A lot of my favorite tropes — for romance readers, you may appreciate the “nursing the sick” technique of strengthening a romantic bond. And, if they had air conditioners on Gann, our hero Meoraq would be the best purveyors of fine chilling devices ever. He has quite a knack for giving our heroine exactly what she needs.

      I’d just warn that I think the writer is very, very good, so she’s likely to drag you into some very dark places indeed.

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