October 15, 2013

Six Reasons Why I Won't Finish R. Lee Smith’s The Last Hour of Gann


A humanoid lizard's torso being hugged from behind by a blonde. He is dark-green and has black scales. For reals.
That's a Lizardman-titty cover, alright!

The Last Hour of Gann is the new “it” book, at least in my little corner of the internet. It’s getting a lot of hype and positive reviews, and Twitter and the blogoverse is abuzz with the lizardman romance (yes, lizardman) that seem to have taken the community by storm.

The blurb should give you an idea of the overall plot:
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.
I probably would have read the book eventually because I’m no strange to R. Lee Smith’s novels, which I find incredibly compelling but highly problematic. The same could be said about this book, except that this time the problematic parts won and I’m unable to finish it.

Here’s why:

1. The portrayal of women

Amber, our heroine, is smart, self-aware, witty and cranky, and she never fails to take charge and solve problems. She is the highlight of the book. All the other women, however, are one --or all-- of the following: prostitutes, victims, useless, whiny, and/or shrews, traits that are portrayed under the most negative way possible*.

2. Too many pages, too little character development

Amber and Meroaq (the Lizardman) are fully-developed characters. The rest of the characters, and the villains in particular, are flat and so poorly developed that they are reduced to that one villainous trait that marks them as evil. This is a 1500-page book, and yet there seems to be no room left for backgrounds, motivations or anything else that would add substance to the secondary characters.

3. The hero is a rapist

He’s had sex with a lot of women, and something tells me he’s raped most, if not all, of them. In the book, Meoraq has dub-con sex with a woman who only sleeps with him because she thinks he will heal her barren womb, and he rapes a virgin described as:
‘A girl,’ Meoraq thought, trying to be severe, to be scornful even. Not a woman at all, but hardly more than a child, to judge by the narrowness of her build and the grey tint to her immature scales. One of the many curses laid upon House Arug. Nothing but that. Nothing worth noticing at all.
But then he goes and fucks her anyway, because rapist.

Culture and religion are used to excuse and normalize his behavior, so we are aware that he doesn’t know any better because it’s socially permitted. The good news is that sometimes he allows women to fight him (as in he gives them permission to do it) and I hear he doesn’t rape the heroine, so there’s that, right? We tend to excuse (or be blind to) badly-behaving heroes when their actions don’t directly affect the heroine. I would like to see us as readers and members of the Romance community question and challenge both the stories selling us these characters, and our reactions to it, but I guess that’s a post for another day.

I don’t know if by the end of the book he realizes that women are more than wombs or sex objects and learns to respect and see them as equals, but I’m not willing to wait and see.

4. Fat Jokes

Amber is fat, and her physical appearance is what the villains use as a tool to ostracize and humiliate her. There are a lot of derisive comments about her weight, and some characters do cruel things to her (like depriving her of food) with her weight as an excuse. The constant abuse is almost unbearable, but not as bad as the next item in the list.

5. Foreboding and Anxiety of Doom

I keep expecting the moment when Amber will get raped. So far it hasn’t happened, but if Smith’s previous books are any indication, it will happen repeatedly and in graphic detail. Waiting for it, wondering about it, expecting it, is giving me a serious case of anxiety, and I can’t cope.

Which brings me to:

6. All the powerless feels

I like Amber a lot and I would keep reading just to see her triumph, but the story makes a huge effort to strip her of the little agency she has by surrounding her with people who dehumanize her and by constantly putting her in situations she can’t possibly win. It’s making me increasingly frustrated, angry, and ultimately leaves me feeling powerless, even if I know that things will end well for her (and I use the term "well" loosely). Almost 400 pages into the book, and the promise of a happy ending no longer justifies feeling like crap.

*****

There you have it. I can’t deny that Smith is a compelling storyteller and that there are many things to like about the book. But it comes down to too many problematic elements and to the fact that I don’t like the way the book makes me feel. Maybe I will eventually finish it, but as invested as I am in Amber, I can’t force myself to keep reading. 

**This issue is also present in Heat and The Scholomance. In the former, there was only one female character who wasn’t brutalized. And in the latter, the only female character who had agency wasn’t entirely human. 

If you’re curious, you can purchase the book here

22 comments:

  1. I have a hard time understanding how this can be a good book. I suppose at the end of the day you have to chalk it up to people just enjoy what they enjoy, but I tend to agree with you on wanting to challenge books like this when they clearly have so many problems. Thanks for the heads up on this one's problems. I'm curious, though, since you've read some of the author's other works and know what her style is like, will you keep reading more of her books?

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    1. Yes, I will read her again, but in small doses (this is not an author you can glom). It's one of those cases of enjoying problematic work. This one was too much for me to handle, but as I said, she's a compelling storyteller (her books are really long but never drag or feel dull) and as disturbed as I am by the stuff she writes, I'm also drawn to it.

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    2. I had started to read the sample for this on Amazon a week or so ago, but never finished. Went back today and there is a rape scene (by the "hero") in the sample, which is from the beginning of the book, so....nope.

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    3. That's the scene with the woman who can't get pregnant (although for all I know it's the husband's fault, but no one in that world would ever think of that option). Yep, it's bad. But that sample is long enough for people to tell whether this book will work for them or not, and it has examples of pretty much everything I mention on this review, so I would recommend downloading the sample before buying the book.

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  2. I'm OBVS completely out of the romance loop because I had not even heard of this, but in reading your post, I just can't see how this is such a big hit! Then again, this could be said for so many books out there, especially in romance. I'm looking at you, 50 Shades! :)

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    1. LOL! People like what their like, and we're allowed to enjoy problematic content. I do see why this book is a hit; the writing is good, the setup is original, the heroine is great... At least it's not P2P Twi-fic!

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    2. Yeah, I know you're right, and I support people liking what they like! As long as they're reading, right? :) Well, I hope you enjoy her next book better than this one. :D

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  3. Based on the blurb alone, this is. to the book for me. Based on your detailed thoughts about what you had read, DEFINITELY not the book for me.

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    1. Typos!!! That's what I get for commenting on my iPad.

      My comment should have read "Based on the blurb alone, this is not the book for me."

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    2. Yes, I wouldn't recommend this one to you ;-)

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  4. Thanks for the post. I'd seen a lot on Twitter about this book and I love Sci-Fi Rom so I'd thought I'd give it a go, but this is definitely NOT the book for me.

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    1. You're welcome, Rebe. If anything, it's always good to read positive and negative reviews just to make an informed decision. If you are still a bit curious, the sample is long enough to give you an idea of what you're getting into.

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  5. Brie - you're killing me. Jane loved this book. So did Smexybooks. Those 2 recommends usually would mean an auto buy but the way the "rape" is discussed I don't know if I can do it.

    I feel like I'm going to miss out on the greatest hero ever but I just can't handle scenes where the heroine is raped - especially if it's in graphic detail.

    I read a Suzanne Brockman once with a rape scene and I could never read her again (even though it kills me because I know people love her) but that scene still stays with me.

    So when you say graphic rape scenes are typical - are we talking really bad. Or is this more like historical forced/seduction type stuff - where some may not even perceive it as rape?

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    1. Yes, the rape scenes are really bad and they leave no room to interpret them as forced seduction. If Gina's rape scene made you quit Brockmann, don't read Smith, because the rape in her books is way worse. Way, waaay worse.

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  6. Hookay... that's a pass. Thanks. I was having a hard enough time with the lizard guy anyway.

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  7. Everyone I know is raving about this one, but the rape of the heroine (by bad guys and apparently described in detail) and the hero as a rapist are big trigger points for me. I think I'll pass on this one for the reasons you've listed.

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    1. I'm glad I could offer a different point of view ;-)

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  8. I don't think I can read this as a romance. I see her books are billed as "erotic horror", and if I think about this as grimdark sci-fi, I'll be able to get through it. I don't know, though. The sample really grabbed me, but, ugh, rapes. I committed to reading it with a friend, and I really hope Amber eventually gets revenge on all the mean people.

    That said, I really, really want to read Heat, and in some ways the description of that book seems even darker.

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    1. Hi, Shannon!

      There's nothing erotic about her books, I think. In The Scholomance, for example, there are only a couple of sex scenes and another couple of rape scenes, but the sex doesn't really have much weight on the story. So I'm not sure who is labeling these books.

      Heat is darker, more violent and brutal. I think Gann is a better choice, to be honest, even if I actually managed to finish Heat and even gave it a favorable review.

      When you finish, come back and let me know if she does get revenge ;-)

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  9. I'm tempted to try this one at some stage. Heat didn't interest me all that much but I am curious and intrigued by this one. What's making me hesitate is how long it is - I have little time to read at the moment and my brain is saying "read shorter books so that you can post content on your blog more often".

    I might try a sample one of these days and see if I like it enough to continue. Maybe.

    Sometimes things which are problematic can be very entertaining to read - but whether the entertainment is enough to overcome the problems is a sliding scale which varies from person to person I think, and book to book.

    If I read it, I wonder if I will regard the lizard man as human anyway? See? Curious! :)

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  10. I am SO glad I read another review and gave this book a chance before reading your review. Are you kidding me? You won't finish this book because it has a bunch of FAT jokes? Like for real. You have this awesome and fancy website, you clearly are an avid reader of FICTION books....and fat jokes are what does it for you as a no go? That was the most ridiculous statement in your entire review.

    The scary/worried anticipation of her potential rape is literary genius! You know she is with horrid men (effing Scott) and you know its been alluded to, but each chapter you are relieved and the tension continues to mount and mount until a resolution is reached.

    I do not expect a book filled with perfect characters and the flaws of them all are what makes the novel so interesting. I am sure many may share your opinion, but like I said, I am relieved I read it before your awful review.

    LOL @ you being affronted by fat jokes?? Scott and the others were jerks- what do you think jerks say to overweight women? They call them fat!?

    smh

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  11. Also....how is anyone turned off that she is dehumanized by those around her and that is part of her struggle...HELLO she is on an alien planet. Her arch nemesis is an asshole, did I mention the alien planet?...Who expected the ALIENS to treat her HUMANELY??? SMH If anyone stumbles upon this review like I did and are remotely still considering giving Gann a chance, please do, you just may find it one of the most interesting and thought provoking novels in a long while... lol Im going back to Smexy and Book Diva where things make sense. ha

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The books reviewed here were purchased by us. If the book was provided by the author or publisher for review, it will be noted on the post. We do not get any type of monetary compensation from publishers or authors.