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