Nov 6 2013 9:30am

Cold Blood, Full Heart: The Romance Virgin Reads The Last Hour of Gann

The Last Hour of Gann by R. Lee SmithStop. Go no further. There is something very important that you must know before continuing on. Something so important, that this one truth is critical to everything that comes after. The Last Hour of Gann is about a woman. A very cool, very interesting woman who I enjoyed getting to know greatly. But this woman loves a man. A lizard-man.  They have sex. This is something one must deal with before even beginning this book. If you can, then stick around.

Many, many people told me since beginning here at H&H that the perfect cross-over book if you are new to Romance and come from a history/fantasy background (as I do) then you should read Outlander. I've read Outlander, I enjoyed it, but, R. Lee Smith's The Last Hour of Gann is better at reaching the non-romance fan in me. Had not this year been the year that I finally read through Rothfuss, it would easily have been my favorite book. That said, it is still one of the best things I've read.

First off, let me tell you about Amber Bierce. Amber Bierce is an amazing heroine. I wish there were more Ambers in the books I encounter, all of them, not just Romance. Amber is a self-described overweight bitch. She is tough, a survivor, a skeptic, a city girl, and she is incredibly no-nonsense. When the hyper-alpha hero tells her to do something, she does the opposite just to spite him. I cannot tell you how much I liked her.

The problem I've encountered with a lot of the PNR I come across is the Beth Syndrome. Yes, that Beth. I'm not a fan of hers, as blasphemous as that may be 'round these parts. I hate the idea of a woman laying down her whole life just to please some jerk jock. That is not Amber.

Which brings us to Amber's hero, Meoraq. Meoraq is best described as a lizard-man. He has a lizardish snout with no lips and long tongue. The only teeth he has are meant for biting, not chewing. He doesn't have a tail, which I will admit to being a little disappointed about. Meoraq is bit of a religious zealot/warrior. In Dungeons and Dragons we call them Paladins.  Known as the Striding Foot of God, Meoraq is treated better than royalty. He can move freely between the city-states of his world, he is judge, jury, and executioner of any official or percieved blasphamy or crime. He also has his choice of any woman, be they wife, daughter, or slave. meoraq can be a bit of an anal-retentive, puritanical asshole. And you love him for it.

Nothing that Meoraq does is unbelievable. The sheer amount of world building that goes into the book makes Meoraq less Marty-Stu Badass and more a vibrant character that is very good at what he does, even though what he does ain't all that nice. You don't like him at first, he is abrasive and bible-thumpy, but then you spend so much time with him that you find yourself missing him as much as Amber.

What makes this whole thing work, despite the crazy, sometimes jarring, inter-species sex, is how these two affect one another. When talking about the incomparable Hayao Miyazaki, I mentioned that love, be it between family members, friends, or romantic partners, is a transformative emotion. To really and deeply care about someone is to both change that individual, and be changed by them. There's this country song by Diamond Rio called Meet In the Middle, and it is the best way to summerize Meoraq and Amber.  I haven't encountered it in books as believably as it is presented here.

Their individual personalities couldn't be more dissimilar. Amber is from a future Earth where population control is limiting births, resources are scarce, and technology has cured every human disease and illness, for a price. Meoraq comes from a land that is barely out of the dark ages. There are no countries, just cities upon the frontier. Points of light in a world of darkness. But they meet, and it works. It works so well that you forget that he is pretty much a ninja turtle without the shell (something I'll ashamedly admit to joking about).

When we first heard about this here at H&H HQ, I, being a typical smart-ass, made a couple of snarky quips. Then I read the description, which made it sound like a much sexier The Sparrow. (Which is an amazing book and if you like The Last Hour of Gann, you should REALLY read it.) I certainly wasn't expecting to like it, let alone having to force myself to sleep because I was staying up till 1 or 2 reading and keeping my wife up because of the lamp by the bed.

You must know, though, that the book is brutal. It is not kind to Amber and Meoraq. It is tough to read at times and there are more than a few potential triggers in terms of sexual assault and violence. But it is still one of the best genre-crossing books I have encountered yet.  And has me looking for more by the author.

Christopher Morgan works for and You can find him on twitter as c_morgs65.

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Kathy Brantley
1. KathyB
I loved this book! As a matter of fact it caused one of the worst book hangovers I've had in a long time. I couldn't imagine love with a lizardman, but Meoraq very quickly stopped being just a "lizard" and became an unforgettable character. And yes, Amber is 100% awesome. I've been looking for something similar so thanks for the alert about The Sparrow.
Christopher Morgan
2. cmorgan
No problemt Kathy, I will let you know that there is no romance in Sparrow, and it is definitely more focused on faith than Gann. It's still a great book though.

And you're right, it doesn't take long for you to stop thinking of Meoraq as a lizard, which I think is the whole point. You are supposed to stop thinking of everyone as alien and just think of them as people.
Nicole Sloan
3. Nicole_Sloan11
Hi Chris, first of all, let me say I loved your post, the "ninja turtle without the shell" comment totally cracked me up. Same as you, I was skeptical about this book, the whole thing about traveling to other planets and lizardmen... well, I'm not a sci-fi fan. But I decided to give it a chance anyway, and am very glad I did. I really enjoyed it and fell in love with the main characters (and hated with a passion some of the others). And seriously, by the time Amber and Meoraq have sex, you: a) are totally comfortable with the lizardman factor, and b) you want them to. I too think this is one of the best books I've read and will definitely try other books by R. Lee Smith soon (probably 'Heat'). Unlike you, I was relieved by the fact that Meoraq didn't have a tail, for some reason I feel like THAT would have been too weird, yes, I know it makes no sense. Oh, and thanks for 'The Sparrow' recommendation, I'll look it up.
Christopher Morgan
4. cmorgan
@Nicole, you are completly right. By the time they actually do have sex, you are cheering them on. I feel like the reader probably wants it more by that point than either of the characters.
5. DabneyGrinnan
The Sparrow? I adore that book and the one after it. I need to re-read it now. Thanks for reminding me.

Also, are you saying you'd pick A Wise Man's Fear as your favorite book of the year? I'd say it has my favorite ending of the year and would be in my top ten.

Great column. I like The Last of Hour Gann a lot. It was interesting to read your Amber-centric take on it.

Christopher Morgan
6. cmorgan
Hi Dabney,

Yes, I would put Routhfuss on the top for the year. Either Name of the Wind or A Wise Man's Fear, either one is worth it in my opinion.

With the exception of Rupert Carsington, I tend to be more drawn to the heroines than heroes, I'm at least a whole lot more criticial of the heroes.
7. pamelia
Great review. I adored this book, but I have yet to read anything by R. Lee Smith that hasn't worked for me.
I really liked how she never info-dumps, but rather seamlessly inserts exposition throughout the book or (gasp!) leaves it to the reader to pick up stuff by what is shown.
If you want to read more by her I would recommend "Heat" (bad guy alien comes to Earth to harvest dopamine and good guy alien follows) although it is brutally violent and very disconcerting to find yourself in the bad guy's corner as he kills and rapes his way through the story!
I would also recommend "Cottonwood" about an alien internment camp on Earth. The heroine is human and the hero is an insectoid alien and the romance is sooo beautifully written (yes, ovopositors included!). Think "District 9" with a twist.
I also really enjoyed Smith's Lords of Arcadia series which starts with "The Care and Feeding of Griffins", but it is 4 long books and not as tightly plotted or polished as "Heat", "Cottonwood" or "Gann".
Christopher Morgan
8. cmorgan
Thanks for the Recs Pamelia, I was actually looking at Scholomance for my next Smith, mainly because I've played more than a little WoW and I do prefer fantasy to SciFi, but I keep seeing Heat everywhere so I may give that a try instead.
9. AMG
pamelia: I loved Cottonwood. I read it after Gann, then re-read it about 3 times right afterward. The 'romance' and connection of the MCs was amazing.

I will not however touch Heat or her other books. The tropes don't work for me.
Lege Artis
10. LegeArtis
You bought me with your Best Fantasy Books post, but now I am totally blown away! :)
I loved this book. I love everything about it. It's definitelly one of my favorite reads this year.
My thoughts on Amber:
Amber is really not easy to love. She is a self-proclaimed bitch. She is confrontational and stubborn. She is a trouble-stirrer and brave bordering on stupid. And that's exactly what makes her the only logical, the only one, the perfect heroine of this story. She is not the heroine of story where they never left the Earth or succeed in making first human colony. To put it this way: if your space ship crashes on unknown planet you better be like Amber. That's why I'm sharing your love, Chris. ;) When you put everything on paper, she's still one amazing character.
I was sceptic about Lizard-man, 'cause I had In the Walls of Erix by Lovecraft in my head, but the way that author waved Amber & Meoraq's relationship from beginning to end made me look beyond anatomies, two sets of thinking, species differences and thousands of light years between them, and see only two beings who fell in love and I desperately wanted them to make it 'till the end.
Great post, Chris!
Christopher Morgan
11. cmorgan
I'm glad you enjoyed it! I've been talking this book up to any who will listen to me. It really is so very good. I didn't even get into how it handles faith and belief which I think is a whole other article itself.
12. RobinC
Thanks for this recommendation. I will definitely add it to my pile. I read both The Sparrow and the following book a couple of years back. They are on my keeper shelf, but I haven't been able to make myself take them down and read them again. Two of the best books I ever read, but they tore my heart out and I still haven't recovered.
13. Love2read
You mention the book The Sparrow in your review of The Last Hour of Gann. Who is the author?
Megan Frampton
14. MFrampton
@Love2read: The Sparrow is by Mary Doria Russell, a truly stupendous book.
15. betie
you always have great recommendations, loved the review - by any chance do you know anything similar to this (romance, good world-building, can't-stop-reading/page-turning)? I've found some great ones but problem is they don't have romance
Christopher Morgan
16. cmorgan
Hey Betie,
It's probably my own inexperience with the genre, but from what I've encountered Sci-fi/Epic Fantasy style World Building and Romance don't always go hand in hand. The two genres tend to have different aims in their story telling. That said, Stacia Kane's Downside Ghosts series is pretty great, and I've heard many great things about the Immortals After Dark series. I also enjoyed both of Ilona Andrews' s stuff.

This author in particular has a fantasy called The Scholomance that is just as compelling as this one. No lizards though. I got it thinking it was inspired by World of Warcraft and I learned that The Scholomance was in fact a thing, not just a 20 man Raid. I was quite pleased.

The truth is, I'm not versed enough to be able to help more, I apologize. However there are a ton of other fans around here that can better reccomend for you.
17. betie
thanks cmorgan. I guess Gann is more a dark romance if anything, I wouldn't classify as normal romance but there was defintiely a strong 'romantic' paring/couple which is what I'm after, the darker/un-pc the better!
I always see Immortals After Dark recommended, bought the books but still can't get into them, don't think much of them. I will try the Scholomance,
Jennifer Proffitt
18. JenniferProffitt
Hi @betie,

In addition to @cmorgan's recommendations, your comment inspired us to start an "ask us anything" style of post. We put together a few recommendations that are sci-fi romances and might hook you a little bit more! Here's the post if you want to peruse the suggestions and see who else has something to recommend. Thanks for stopping by!

Jenn @ Team H&H
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