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

37 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?

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    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.

      Delete
    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.

      Delete
    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.

      Delete
  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! :)

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    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!

      Delete
    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

      Delete
  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.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    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."

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

      Delete
  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.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    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.

      Delete
  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?

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    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.

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

    ReplyDelete
  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.

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

      Delete
  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.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    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 ;-)

      Delete
  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! :)

    ReplyDelete
  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

    ReplyDelete
  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

    ReplyDelete
  12. This is absolutely the best fantasy/scifi/romance I have read yet. It is written on an epic scale - the world building of the Planet of the lizardmen is well done - so well done you feel you could be part of it - the main characters are extremely three deminsional, well built, thought provoking and develop beautifully thrughout the story druing all their trials and tribulations - the human space colonists are absolutely one demensional and totally ludricous in the unrealistic behavior but they serve their purpose in developing the character of Amber. the only other characters extremely well developed are the raiders let by Zhoraq and he is perfectly deep, troubled, diabolical and has enough sides to him and his background story he is almost sympathetic despite the bone chilling diabolical things he does - partticularly the way he speaks. the dream sequences are genius - the human conflict and blindness about religion is well illustrated in a sympathetic and understanding manner bringing the end to an excellent intellectual and spiritual solution to that issue - it brought tears, laughter, horror - it was totally exciting - i can't wait to read it again.

    ReplyDelete
  13. This is one of the best books I have ever read and all of the "problematic" issues mentioned in the above article are resolved by the end of the book (except any additional development of secondary characters) - actually the secondary characters of the dumaqi (the reptoids) is well done but not with the humans. I was so moved by the epic ending and growth of the characters that I am rereading it and wishing there was a sequel.

    ReplyDelete
  14. I disagree strongly with this review. I mean, this author is not writing flowery romance paperbacks or stupid stories about teenaged vampires in love. This author is completely unique and her work is brilliant. It is dark and not always feel-good and that is why I love it. I am so sick of the cheesy la-la happy romances one finds in this genre. I think it is awesome that this author used an overweight character as her heroine! How often do you even see anyone try? And she makes it work, and her heroine is gorgeous, and fact: people are mean to overweight people and it sucks and at least the author faced this head on. As to rape- This is an alien world with alien beings. Plenty of reviews warn about R.Lee Smith book triggers - heed and avoid if they are real for you but don't bash an author for staying true to a world and culture she created (and if the reviewer had finished this book, it all comes together brilliantly as to why these beings are this way!!) No fair getting your knickers in a twist when they do not adhere to 21st century first world human values. This is what makes this author so amazing to me, that she is NOT afraid to push boundaries and creates truly unique, alien environments and not mere prop worlds for sugary romance fantasies. If you like dark or outside the box books at all...you're missing out to skip this author.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Spot on! I just completed the story after 2 sleepless nights and wholly agree with your reply to this flawed review. I found the book riveting - could NOT put it down. Meoraq is such a compelling hero due to the firmament of his beliefs which anchor all his actions. Where some here have prematurely guessed at sanctioned religious rape culture I would first say to FINISH the book to see if an explanation is provided - which WAS(bioweaponry usage leading to altered chemical levels in the dumaq physiology). Secondly, you should turn a page or few back into our human history. This was the very antithesis of the feel-goodery romance mass pulp - and I was thrilled to have read it. I loved the real intimacy which was developed between the two because of the author`s skillful restraint, sharp prose and world building perhaps most.
      Frankly, considering the genre and this author in particular, readers need a gut check at the cover. Sci-fi story-telling is often a journey with varying levels of discomfort. Being open to the adventure and the author`s vision means suspending your reality for the one being created.
      Not a perfect book (the human second-string squad was nothing more than a one-dimensional foil of repetitive aggravation) but an outstanding one nonetheless.

      Delete
  15. One of my favorite books.. ever.. and that is saying an awful lot. I've been reading for a very long time. It was the second of this authors books I've read.. and I've since read almost everything she has written, I only have the multi part fantasy left and I'm going to buy the first book in that as soon as I leave this comment. Gann is extremely real, deep, complex, original, takes on serious issues, and the world building is incredible. This author built and entire alien world complete with history, religion, science.. all unique, and then combined that with a completely plausible alternative future on earth. It's not your typical romance.. and it's so refreshing. I can understand someone being "sensitive" to things like rape.. but this is real world storytelling and nothing in the book is unrealistic except the setting... in fact it's much more realistic than 90% of the novels I read. there is no "insta-love", people are flawed, bad things happen, beautiful things happen, and there is no magic or coincidence that saves the day. This is an epic journey, not just in distance but in growth of each character in every way. Believe it or not there is a HEA in the end, and they earn that sucker with blood, sweat, and tears.

    ReplyDelete
  16. I really loved this book and I don't think the narrative, not the characters and not the culture, normalizes rape especially when the latter bit of the novel challenges the alien culture's normalization of rape. And, this whole 'hero' 'heroine' bit is probably why I've outgrown traditional romance novels. This is not a romance novel. This is a story that is gripping though and while it does have lots of flaws, it stayed with me more than the majority of hero/heroine stories I've read.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I’m responding to you, but this goes for the previous comments as well: I’m sorry I missed the memo that Gann wasn’t a romance novel. What with the author promoting her books in romance blogs and conventions, I must have gotten confused. I actually know that she doesn’t consider herself a romance novelist or a romance reader, which is perfectly fine, but this particular book is fiction with strong romantic elements, so I reviewed it as such. And because this is a romance blog, I use genre terminology like hero and heroine.

      I’m sorry a 4-year old review upset you, but maybe it’s time to let it go.

      Delete
  17. This comment has been removed by the author.

    ReplyDelete
  18. Thank you, I was recommended this WAY to many times, so I read it, and I was totally uncomfortable with everything.

    Its freaking dark, the people are insane and too stupid to survive. I believe people (in real life) liked it because of the journey they had with the book (it was release by chapters).
    But the rapes and the inhuman personalities (not only from the aliens) are to disgusting, especially from someone that is suppose to be your family and everything else you said.

    ReplyDelete
  19. Hello! I have finished that book today. And well... how to put this... AHA! *BIG SPOILER ALERT!*

    Pros:
    + THE WORLD - it's described amazingly, I love every detail of it! Especially the animals, kipwe have become my favourite ones
    + MEORAQ - one sexy hunk of a lizardman, almost everything about him was cool
    + AMBER AND MEORAQ'S RELATIONSHIP - low-building, platonic, but later hot as hell, especially during Meoraq's dreams. Also, their talks and Meoraq's need to pray or meditate when his patience went off
    + AMBER'S TOUGHNESS - yep, that's what I liked in her the most
    + XI`MATEZH THREAD - couldn't wait to see the final of everyone's journey! That place was really mysterious and the conclusion to it's destiny made me speechless

    Cons:
    - TOO LITTLE ABOUT LIZARDMEN'S CULTURE AND TOO MUCH FOCUS ON RAPE - no, I don't buy the "alien planet" argument which allowed the author to put rape everywhere she seemed to lack ideas. I could understand Scott group's motives, I even could understand Zhuqa's ones, but enough. The rape scenes in both cases did not make me shocked. But Meoraq's behavior at the moment of saving Amber from Zhuqa's fortress was awful and looked really forced in that part of the book. Shock us more!
    - LIZARDMEN'S ANATOMY AND BEHAVIOR - no, no, no, that's one big mistake. No sharp claws? No tails? Wearing boots? Using "human" terms to describe males and females as "men" and "women"? What's more - females, LIZARDWOMEN, having mammal breasts and breastfeeding their babies? NO
    - PORTRAYING WOMEN - I could imagine that if Meoraq's race had strong males, then the females also had to be badass, just like the members of such half-animal race should be... What? I got weak dumbheads that even couldn't defend themselves. And NO, "the victims of an experiment" also isn't an argument to me
    - GETTING PREGNANT VIA CROSS-SPECIES INTERCOURSE - excuse me? So the humans could easily mix their genes with aliens? Well... no wonder. Those lizardmen in fact didn't have much of lizards... But why there weren't even any complications in Amber's pregnancy?
    - AMBER'S SUBMISSION - when Meoraq appeared and when he started having better contact with Amber, she just got mentally "clinged" to him. And later, while they started having sex, she could not deny, but Meoraq could
    - TOO LONG! - yeah, too many filler-pages with Meoraq's or Amber's thoughts. The book was focused mainly on their points of view and we had no chance to check other characters' motivations. I wanted to know why Nicci was so mean to Amber

    To sum up... so the book isn't candy-sweet? Mammalizing lizardmen, their females weak as hell, making other people of Amber's group so dumb she could shine... Well... this in fact IS candy-sweet. I don't recommend "Last Hour of Gann", although I got touched during the ending.

    ReplyDelete
  20. After reading the amazon reviews I bought it. It was quite good for the most part. But why oh why did Meoraq keep leaving Amber with the group and Scott? He tried to kill her or get her killed how many times? And I got tired of Amber protecting and giving her sister everything. Lots of issues and I think the raping was overdone. I would rate this a 3 star.

    ReplyDelete
  21. Actually, The hero DOES rape the Heroine, in my opinion. But this is glossed over in the if-she-consented-once-she-consents-forever trope. And not only does Meoraq rape her, but his rape of her is hundreds of times more graphic, more dangerous and causes more injury than ANY of the villains rapes of her. Not only does he rape her, he rapes her and just barely doesn't kill her. I hear people remarking that Smith writes amazing villains, but honestly I think Smith writes some of the worst villains I've ever read (at least in gann, I can't speak to the rest of her work). Villains are supposed to be compelling, not eye roll worthy. I did enjoy reading the book, but I felt like a half decent editor could have cut the book in a quarter and the same messages would have been present but without so much utterly pointless filler. I won't be reading more of her work, but don't "regret" reading Gann, although the amount of hours of my life I'll never get back are a bit hard to swallow.

    ReplyDelete
  22. Everyone has their own point of view and their own triggers. I would only say to all who read this review and comments Please read the book (all of it) and make up your own mind. This book is long, diverse and, to me, epic. It takes its time to develop the world, the journey to Xi Matezh and the relationship between Meoraq and Amber. I have read it a number of times and there are so many details which relate to other characters or other events that I missed on a first read. This is not a simple 350 page romance. There is too much to the book for it to be discarded for what are small parts of a whole.

    ReplyDelete
  23. Is there a rule about not commenting on an old blog post? It seems to be implied, but I'm going to press on anyway.

    Also, trigger warning: I'm going to disagree with the blog.

    If we women are as strong as we claim to be, then surely we can survive reading a book that includes misogyny and rape. Further, if we are as intelligent and rational as we claim to be, we can discern between story telling and a moral lesson. And, if we are as worldly as we claim to be, then we can understand that good characters are not always good, and bad characters are not always bad. This applies in the real world as well.

    The Last Hour of Gann is an incredible book. Its praises have already been sung in perhaps half of the comments here, and so I won't repeat. I will only say, to those who have stumbled upon this several-year-old blog post: if you can easily remove fantasy from reality while understanding that many of the things that make us uncomfortable will (and should) find their way into literature worth spending time with, then do yourselves a favor and read this epic novel.

    ReplyDelete

Blogger likes to eat comments, so I suggest copying it before hitting "publish" just in case it doesn't go through the first time. This is a pain, I know, but it's the only solution/prevision I can think of, and it will save you the frustration of losing a comment. Also, thanks for visiting!

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...

FTC Disclaimer

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.